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Short Story Challenge: Where did the footprints come from? (Win publication in WD)

Categories: Fun, General, Getting Published, There Are No Rules Blog by the Editors of Writer's Digest, WD Magazine, What's New Tags: short stories, Writing challenge, Your Story contest, Zachary Petit.

Photo by Richard Dorrell [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re like me and you have far more New Year’s resolutions concerning writing and publishing than you do dieting, exercising or socializing, here’s something you may be interested in—a writing prompt, and a chance to have your fiction published in Writer’s Digest magazine.

In every issue of WD we give readers a chance to get  published via the Your Story contest. Here’s the latest contest prompt from our January 2013 issue (which also features a stirring interview with the funny and wise novelist Lee Child):

A man who lives alone sees a set of footprints leading away from his house the morning after a heavy snowfall.

Want in? Post your story in the Comments section below, and it’ll automatically be entered in the competition.

The fine print:

  • Your story must be 750 words or fewer, no exceptions.
  • The deadline is Jan. 14, 2013. [Update: If you submit in the Comments section below, you have until 11:59 p.m., Jan. 16.]
  • One entry per person, please.
  • How it all works: We’ll select the top five entries and post them on our forum. In late January, readers will vote for their favorite to help determine the winner.
  • This is a free writing competition. The prize is publication in WD.
  • You can also submit your story via the online form here.
  • Finally, as we say about this contest in the magazine: “You can be funny, poignant, witty, etc. It is, after all, your story.”

Good luck! Here’s to a new year of writing.

—Zachary Petit is an award-winning journalist, and the senior managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine.
Like what you read from WD online? Check us out in print, or on your favorite mobile device

 

Looking to fulfill your resolution to write a book in 2013?

Look no further than the Getting Started in Writing Premium Collection, which includes several books and ebooks, and two on-demand webinars.

Find out more here.

 

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43 Responses to Short Story Challenge: Where did the footprints come from? (Win publication in WD)

  1. Doriana says:

    Waiting in Line

    It was a Friday afternoon and my first time being at the place I haven’t been at for a long time. The sun was beating down heavily on everyone who stood in line for the ride, including me. There were a lot of people that came to the park on this particular day, and many of these people came for the thrills like I did. However, many people didn’t expect to wait in such a long line for a few minutes of fun. When people weren’t waiting in line, they were partaking in other activities like playing games in order to win big prizes, walking to the nearest food court in order to grab food, and going into souvenir shops in order to purchase items to bring home with them. I wanted to get out of line and be a part of the action as well, but I knew I had to get this urge out of my system. I had to stand in this long, dreadful line and wait anxiously for my turn to come, which I thought would never come. There were about twenty people who were ahead of me and only four seats that could be occupied at once. However, those twenty people felt like a thousand people in my head. This time, the sun was really beaming down on my body, which caused further irritation to come my way. As I continued to stand in line, I heard the thrills and the screams of all of the people who were on the ride and thought to myself, “I can’t wait until that’s me on the ride”. In my head I thought that the line was starting to move up a little bit, but then I realized that in reality I was still standing in the same spot as I have been for about a while now. I thought that I would only have to wait a few minutes until my turn came, but those minutes turned into a few hours. Those few hours soon turned into a few months, which turned into a few years, which turned into a few decades, which eventually turned into a few centuries. It is apparent that I have no patience when it comes to waiting in line, especially for something that I have an urge to do. Waiting in line for this long amount of time reminded me of the last time I went to Six Flags and had to wait in the same long line for the same thing. However, that was a long five years ago. I guess you could call this déjà vu right? As I looked ahead, I started to notice that the line was starting to move up a little, which made me really happy inside. I knew that in no time, I will be occupying one of the four seats and would soon get rid of my urge. One ride is what all it would take. However, as soon as the line started to get shorter, a group of rowdy teenagers who were two years older than I was had cut in front of the line. Upon seeing this, I became really irritated. How could these people cut me, little me who has been waiting in this line for centuries in order to get my turn? I was not having that, so I decided that I should walk up to the front of the line and cut in front of the cutters and the people who were waiting in line ahead of me. However, I knew that it would be wrong of me to do that, and I also knew that if I were to do that, I’ll probably get kicked out of line. Instead, I just decided to comment on the teenagers’ action by saying, “Hey, you can’t cut in front of everyone. You wouldn’t like it if somebody did that to you would you?” They all stared at me as if I were a mythical creature that they had a hard time identifying. After the stares, there came the brutal chuckles from every person’s body that was a part of the group. I even think that one person flipped me the bird. It was hopeless, I thought to myself, for I would never make it out of this line. “More and more waiting to come was starting to become the highlight of my day”, I thought to myself sarcastically. Luckily, some people’s patience was shorter than mine and caused them to leave from the line and move on to something else. I was happy to see them leave but was disappointed at the same time, for they weren’t the people who I wanted to leave. As the line started to become short again, a few more people came in line and tried to cut. Apparently, these new set of line cutters were with the old set of line cutters. I almost lost my mind when I saw what was happening for the second time. I thought I really had to take precaution now since I have been cut twice by annoying teenagers. I started to make a move, but luckily, the security guard had come over and had told the cutters to get out of line and make their way to the back. As the line cutters proceeded to move to the back of the line, I thought to myself, “thank God for security guards”. The line started to get short quickly, for the line was moving so quick that I had about seven people ahead of me. I knew that I would be a part of the next four people to go, which made me very excited. I knew my turn would come soon once I saw those four people leave and make their way to the other parts of the park. Then there were the next four people’s turn, three other people and myself. I felt so honored to be occupying the last seat, for my time has come to make the best of it. I was so happy that I started to sing a little melody inside of my head in order to celebrate how far I have come. I quickly made my way to the empty seat, placed my belongings on the ground, locked myself in, slowly pulled down my pants and began to pee.

  2. ashleymitchell says:

    I woke up shaking, strands of hair quivering with droplets of sweat only contributing to the shadows of the already dark room. I pushed them away, trying to bring my racing breaths down to a normal rate even as my heart threatened to pound it’s way through the very hairs of my chest. Swinging my legs out of bed I paused on the edge, one hand on the bed for support and the other to steady the world swimming in front of my eyes. An all too quick glance at the sheets told me I would have to wash them again. I really need to learn to sleep with a shirt on.
    It wasn’t like she was here to appreciate the view anyways.
    I stayed there for a few more moments, neglecting the desire to wash my body clean of the night’s residue for the stronger idea of savoring the last few moments of avoiding the day.
    As much as I dreaded it, my job, however trying, was only thing keeping me sane since she’d left. I struggled to organize my thoughts in preparation for the day. It was a hefty list to mull over and something to help me not think about my life while making the morning coffee.
    Put the portfolio on Anna’s desk. Contact Mrs. Leeson about her investment in the Hoffman Waterworks deal. Check with Eliot about the press meeting next Thursday. Check with Eliot about the moving the press meeting to Friday. Check with Eliot about whether or not there needs to be a meeting at all. Although it would be cool to be quoted in the Chicago Weekly. Take Eliot to coffee today to debate the meeting.
    I turned to place the coffee mugs on the table before I realized I was holding two. Ice crept into my veins and I didn’t bother to fight it. The numbness it brought was the closest thing I could feel to contentment anymore.
    I stood there for a moment, trying to inhale precious oxygen before slowly placing the coffee onto the table. It didn’t work and the hot liquid splashed over my left hand with a liveliness uncharacteristic to my mornings nowadays.
    Maybe I should spill my coffee more often.
    Maybe I’m going crazy. Probably. Since it’s to the point where I’m answering my own thoughts, it’s definitely more than a probably.
    Damn.
    I scraped the chair across the floor to make room for myself between the wooden backing and the table, but didn’t bother to sit down. It was all so tiring, this process of living. Of waking up in the same bed in the morning, drinking the same cheap coffee, sitting in the chairs she picked out.
    I left the mugs on the table untouched and walked over to my papers. I tried to go over my list again. The portfolio for Anna; Mrs. Leeson’s investment; something to talk to Eliot about over coffee.
    Coffee.
    I bumped the coffee-date with Eliot to the top of my mental list. I would need the caffeine to make up for not drinking from either of the two mugs still steaming on the breakfast table.
    Grabbing my bag and coat I expertly ignored the rising white spires to my right and made for the door. A cold gust dissipated the unbearable stuffiness that plagued my lonely house.
    Fumbling to break the key into the lock I finally managed to cram it in and turn it with a satisfying click. I made my way down the porch steps, noting the slipperiness of the frost coating the concrete steps and the crunch of fluffy ice meeting the weight of my old boots. A bird was singing from across the street, over on the Wilson’s porch. I made a mental note to drop by later to welcome their new baby to the neighborhood.
    I was halfway across the yard before I realized I’d forgotten to shower. I stopped to ponder the importance of this act, turning around on the heel of my boot in order to hesitate over my dilemma in the direction of the building in question.
    My eyes wandered up the lone trail of footprints leaving the doorframe. The chirping had ceased.
    Decisively I shifted my bodyweight and in one motion charged toward the open sidewalk. Showers are unnecessary.
    Unimportant.
    Just like nothing was important anymore.

  3. SierraJay says:

    “It’s not real,” she said. “It’s all a game. I’m not really here.”

  4. ilovepandas says:

    Jim slowly realized how small the footprints were and ran to grab his coat. He knew he had time to waste of there was a small child running out in the snow. And if the child did stay out he/she will die because there was supposed to be a storm coming. Jim is a very kind man with a scars along his body, not as if he was hurt in an accident but attacked by something bigger then all of us. A tear trickled down the side of his cold cheek and red face, he didn’t wipe it away as though he didn’t have time for emotions. He grabbed his keys and flashlight, just in case it would be dark if he got back. He started to run at a steady pace watching the footsteps move in a rhythmic pattern. The more he watched the footsteps the faster they started to fade away, so he slowed down and sat on a frozen tree stump…
    “Daddy when will the tree grow back. I want to come back and watch them before the fairies go away to that place… I forgot the name daddy can you tell me again please.” He sat and looked at his daughter rubbing the stump in a mesmerizing way as if she could sit there for the rest of her life. “Sure they go to Hollow land, where all the fairies go to sleep and rest up before the flowers start to bloom and leaves start to grow. When do you think we should come back…” His daughter was so happy that she started to jump around and slipped on some of the ice. She got up without the help of her father and sat down next to him, her face began to wan you could tell the fall hurt her but she didn’t mind all that much. “I think we should come back tomorrow and see if it starts growing and can we take pictures and put them up around my room…”
    … Jim gets up from the tree stump and paces himself alongside of the footsteps while he carefully watches. In the background you could here trees rustling a snow fell off the topic the branches. As he looked up he noticed that drops of red following the footsteps, Jim was confused as to what might have happened because the path wasn’t dangerous. He kept walking and the blood began to stain the ice and leaving nothing behind to follow. He quickly turned around to check to see if he could see them, but the blood was gone and so were the footsteps. Cautiously he keeps following the path down to the river…
    … “Help me please I can’t hold on, don’t let me go please.” The ice was cracking leaving a bigger hole then the one that is already present. Whoever dared to walk across it would surely fall in and freeze to death. “Someone please help me, I can’t do this on my own I need help I can’t do this alone.” Shouting as of someone would actually help because there was no in the woods only dead silence and the snow, as shouting drew attention to the spot on the river.
    … Jim sat on the Ice and started to cry trying to remember what happened that day. But he can’t it’s almost impossible because it would bring him to tears. He got up and walked back towards the lake but the footsteps were once again back on the path. Jim noticed that the direction changed and there was a to pairs of footsteps one big and small. He walked back to the river and noticed there was a hole on the right side of the river. But there was a body inside the water, the person was screaming help but it wasn’t a child. Jim ran over and tried to figure out who it was he he didn’t know, he pulled the man out of the water and felt his skin. He looked as if he had been frozen for days. Jim wiped the snow off the mans face and found his own reflection. Jim got up and ran in the wrong direction and fell in the hole. Almost instantly he was frozen and then did he realize that he died in the river and would keep reliving this day for the rest of his life.

  5. Maxwell says:

    If interested the 2013 NCGS National Sci-Fi Short Story Contest is now accepting entries. No fee to enter.
    Details at:
    http://www.ncgsbooks.com

  6. baystater says:

    Whoever it was had headed west and aside from this, the man did not care. It had probably been a hiker that had waited out the storm on his front porch. Nothing had been taken, although someone had moved things over to sit on the bench by the door. Why had they not knocked or rung the bell? He looked at the tracks again. High heels? Small pointy heel, a gap and a tapered heel. What was she doing out here? He gazed in the direction in which she had headed. The next house in that direction was over ten miles away.

    Sighing deeply, he went back inside. His instinct was to ignore the tracks and let nature take its course. There was a reason why wild animals went off alone into the brush to die. He poured himself a cup of coffee and then, just as he was about to add the cream and sugar, changed his mind and dumped the entire cup’s contents into a thermos. He poured the rest of the coffee from the pot into the thermos, too, and finding there was a little more than would go in, drank it quickly. He would need its caffeinated magic and warmth.

    He placed the thermos into a backpack that he kept by the front door. After stuffing an extra blanket into it, he donned his heavy winter jacket and laced on his snowshoes. He hesitated and then lashed another pair of snowshoes to the backk of his backpack.

    The sky had already started to darken with a new set of storm clouds. Jacob couldn’t tell how long it would take for the new storm to form, but he also wasn’t sure how long the since the person had left his house. He would have to hurry in either case.

    He followed the footprints for almost a mile before they veered off of the main path. By this time, the tracks no longer went in a straight line, but had crossed back and forth across the path several times. “Drunk?” thought Jacob. “Or exhausted?” He glanced ahead to see if the footprints returned to the path. If they did, he couldn’t see it. The ground was less even here. Where it wasn’t snow-covered, there were clusters of grass.

    With the snow covering, there was no telling what you’d find with each step. You might sink a few inches, landing on a tuft of grass; or you might sink between them. If you were unlucky, you would twist your ankle slipping off the tuft of grass.

    A wind blew the top layer of snow, whirling it around in a wisp that slapped Jacob’s exposed face with its icy coldness. Other animal tracks were visible here and if the wind continued to blow, it would make it hard to distinguish their tracks from the ones he wanted. He quickened his pace.

    The trail led off into the woods and Jacob followed it, testing each step before putting his full weight down. At one point, he saw where she must have tripped and fallen—there was a larger depression in the snow, some broken branches. A few yards farther, she had fallen again. This time, a brown-and-tan hand knit scarf lay half-buried under the snow. She couldn’t be much farther; clearly she was growing tired at this point.

    The wind howled and in the midst of its roar, he heard it: singing. There! A few dozen feet ahead of him, under the branches of a spruce tree. She sat, knees pulled up close. Shivering. He stumbled in his rush to reach her and pulled his backpack off as he sat down. He threw an arm around her, drawing her near. She offered no resistance and showed no recognition. High heels—which had somehow survived the trek through the wilderness—had been neatly removed and lined up next to a root of the tree. He removed the blanket from the backpack and wrapped it around her feet and began massaging them. Jacob studied her face.
    Familiar blue eyes twinkled at him.

    “I went for a walk,” she said finally. “I wanted to play, but nobody was home.”

    “I’m sorry, Mother,” he said. “We need to get you home.”

    She giggled. “That’s silly. I’m not your mother. I’m not old enough.”

    “I need to take you back to the home. They are probably worried.”

    “Worried?” She suddenly looked contrite and Jacob thought how Alzheimer’s was a bitch.

  7. Nate says:

    Leaving it all Behind

    Dan sat alone waiting for Vera, his lover, to arrive. The clock read seven, she was thirty minutes late. He thought about calling her again, but decided against it. The waiter returned with a bottle of wine to refill his glass, he shook his head no, and asked for the check. As he gathered his wallet from his pocket, a piece of paper fell out onto the floor. Dan looked down at it, then bent over and picked it up. He unfolded the paper from its neat square folds, sat down in his seat, and began to read.

    Hey baby, sorry I couldn’t make it, and I am sorry that it had to be this way, telling you it’s over in a note…. Clearly, I just don’t have the courage to say this to you in person. It is over between us. I can no longer continue on like this. You are really great, but I need space. To grow. And be myself. I need more than what you can give me. Please understand baby, I will always love you, just not as your lover.

    Love, Vera

    He shook his head in disbelief and called her. After several rings, Vera answered. “Hello Dan,” she said.

    “Vera,” he said. “Uh…where have you been? You missed dinner.”

    She sighed, hesitated for a moment. “Did you get my note?”

    “Yes. I just read it. What’s all this about,” Dan said attempting to laugh.

    “It’s no joke Dan. I’ve collected my things from the apartment and, well, as you know now, I won’t be moving in with you.”

    Dan did not say anything. He stood there in shock over what had just happened. The waiter came with the check and placed it on the table. Dan looked at it, still not moving or saying a word.

    “Dan? Hello, are you there? Look I’m sorry,” Vera said.

    He ended the phone call and stared at nothing. He reflected on the conversation he just had with Vera, then took a deep breath, collected his thoughts, reached for the check on the table. He pulled some cash from his wallet, paid the bill, and left the restaurant.

    He walked to the parking garage and found his car, unlocked it, opened the driver side door, and sat down. It was so hot in there. Even though the weather was in the low twenties, he felt warm. Dan reached over to his glove compartment, opened it, grabbed a pint of Wild Turkey, and took a long slug. “Fuck it,” he said, then started the car, backed out, and exited the garage. As he began to drive to his apartment, he thought better of it. He kept driving, away from the lights, the traffic, the noise, the elevated bushwa of it all, out of the city. He needed to leave it all where it lay, including Vera. He decided to drive straight through the night to his Upstate cabin on the lake.

    As he drove, he sucked at the pint. He listened to jazz, tasted the good whiskey, and forgot the world existed. Then his phone rang, disturbing his grand vibe. Without looking to see who called, Dan rolled down the window, grabbed the phone, and tossed it out of the car. What liberation he felt. What freedom he rediscovered. The bottle tasted even sweeter now, the jazz even richer.

    Five hours passed and Dan pulled into his lake front cabin. The night sky displayed a bright canvass of light with its billions of stars dancing above his head. It had been two years since he had visited the cabin. As he walked toward the front steps, he slipped on some ice, but caught himself before he fell. Dan laughed a bit at the humor of the entire situation. He rebalanced himself, tipped the bottle to the stars, and finished it. As he did, Dan let out a loud yell, screaming at the world, releasing all of the pent up emotion and anxiety from the life the city gave him. He tossed the bottle into the woods, and made it inside where he stripped off his winter clothes, and knocked out on the couch as the snow began to fall to the earth.

    When Dan awoke that morning, he walked to his kitchen window, gazed outside, and noticed some footprints in the fresh snow trailing from the cabin. They did not seem to begin or end anywhere, almost angelic, as the morning sun glistened, and Dan realized that he was all alone.

    (750 words total)

  8. Leftoverpieces says:

    As he slept, the snow fell hard against the house. He knew the storm was coming as the news had been reporting on it for the last few days. “Rural areas should be prepared to be snowed in, and don’t forget to bring your animals inside!” the local weatherman jibed. It was nice to see the news team laughing while comfortably tucked inside the toasty warm newsroom. The snow was never much of a bother except on mornings like these, where the choice became one of either shoveling your way out and hoping the road was clear enough to drive on, or simply staying in.

    When he awoke, it was quite silent. No birds, no wind, no sense of any activity whatsoever which was strange for any normal morning around here. Usually, birds would start singing as soon as the sun was up. Raccoons and the occasional deer would show up making their usual sounds as they foraged through the property, but not today. Today was different; you could hear it and feel it. The morning coffee was bubbling as it brewed while he looked outside through the kitchen window. The sun shown bright like any day before it, but all was still, which made him inch closer to the windowpane until his breath was fogging it. He peered to the left and right trying to understand what was so different, to try and see what was there which made so little sense, but came away from the window with nothing more than an eerie feeling.

    His cup was poured and he went to the front door to see if the paper had shown up this morning. Though he lived outside of town, he had managed to convince the local paper to deliver to his house. With some negotiating they agreed to bring him a paper when it was called for, only he wasn’t the one deciding what was called for. Catastrophe, murder, war; these were what he had in mind when they should bring a paper and yet there never seemed to be any set guideline he could find in the papers that did show up. He opened the front door and found no paper that morning but what was there left him perplexed. A single set of foot prints facing away from his front porch leading out to the trees. He looked to the forest following the path to see if there was any trace of who made them. When he saw no one he looked around to see where the steps came from. There were no traces of steps coming towards his house, only the single path headed away. He listened closely for any sound of movement and still he heard nothing. He slowly closed the door, watching toward the woods as he shut and locked himself inside.

    He drank his cup of coffee as he seated himself near the living room window watching out to the trees. Adrenaline was mixing with the caffeine which aided in his decision to follow the steps. As he finished his cup he was already on the move into his bedroom throwing on his overalls and grabbing his hat and coat from the coatrack. Behind the coatrack he kept his shotgun and without thinking he had grabbed it and was checking to see that there were shells in the chamber. There were, and with that he was out the door.
    His breath was hot as he ran toward the tree line and huge puffs of steam came off it as he chased down what he didn’t know. Into the trees he followed the footprints, his eyes tracking the path in front of him until he came to a clearing. He had been through these woods before and knew this area well, it was a great location for early morning hunting. When he approached clearing he noticed the footprints stopped in the middle of the field. He looked around frantically for someone or some reason why these steps would stop. He made his way to the last step and stood there. It was a right foot. He looked around, then back at the print. It didn’t make sense, until he decided to put his foot in its place. He placed his right foot into the mark in the snow where it fit perfectly. With that he pressed his left foot into the powder and lifted it just to be sure it matched. When it did, he knew these steps were for him.

  9. Nate says:

    Leaving it all Behind

    Dan sat alone waiting for Vera, his lover, to arrive. The clock read seven, she was thirty minutes late. He thought about calling her again, but decided against it. The waiter returned with a bottle of wine to refill his glass, he shook his head no, and asked for the check. As he gathered his wallet from his pocket, a piece of paper fell out onto the floor. Dan looked down at it, then bent over and picked it up. He unfolded the paper from its neat square folds, sat down in his seat, and began to read.

    Hey baby, sorry I couldn’t make it, and I am sorry that it had to be this way, telling you it’s over in a note…. Clearly, I just don’t have the courage to say this to you in person. It is over between us. I can no longer continue on like this. You are really great, but I need space. To grow. And be myself. I need more than what you can give me. Please understand baby, I will always love you, just not as your lover.

    Love, Vera

    He shook his head in disbelief and called her. After several rings, Vera answered. “Hello Dan,” she said.

    “Vera,” he said. “Uh…where have you been? You missed dinner.”

    She sighed, hesitated for a moment. “Did you get my note?”

    “Yes. I just read it. What’s all this about,” Dan said attempting to laugh.

    “It’s no joke Dan. I’ve collected my things from the apartment and, well, as you know now, I won’t be moving in with you.”

    Dan did not say anything. He stood there in shock over what had just happened. The waiter came with the check and placed it on the table. Dan looked at it, still not moving or saying a word.

    “Dan? Hello, are you there? Look I’m sorry,” Vera said.

    He ended the phone call and stared at nothing. He reflected on the conversation he just had with Vera, then took a deep breath, collected his thoughts, reached for the check on the table. He pulled some cash from his wallet, paid the bill, and left the restaurant.

    He walked to the parking garage and found his car, unlocked it, opened the driver side door, and sat down. It was so hot in there. Even though the weather was in the low twenties, he felt warm. Dan reached over to his glove compartment, opened it, grabbed a pint of Wild Turkey, and took a long slug. “Fuck it,” he said, then started the car, backed out, and exited the garage. As he began to drive to his apartment, he thought better of it. He kept driving, away from the lights, the traffic, the noise, the elevated bushwa of it all, out of the city. He needed to leave it all where it lay, including Vera. He decided to drive straight through the night to his Upstate cabin on the lake.

    As he drove, he sucked at the pint. He listened to jazz, tasted the good whiskey, and forgot the world existed. Then his phone rang, disturbing his grand vibe. Without looking to see who called, Dan rolled down the window, grabbed the phone, and tossed it out of the car. What liberation he felt. What freedom he rediscovered. The bottle tasted even sweeter now, the jazz even richer.

    Five hours passed and Dan pulled into his lake front cabin. The night sky displayed a bright canvass of light with its billions of stars dancing above his head. It had been two years since he had visited the cabin. As he walked toward the front steps, he slipped on some ice, but caught himself before he fell. Dan laughed a bit at the humor of the entire situation. He rebalanced himself, tipped the bottle to the stars, and finished it. As he did, Dan let out a loud yell, screaming at the world, releasing all of the pent up emotion and anxiety from the life the city gave him. He tossed the bottle into the woods, and made it inside where he stripped off his winter clothes, and knocked out on the couch as the snow began to fall to the earth.

    When Dan awoke that morning, he walked to his kitchen window, gazed outside, and noticed some footprints in the fresh snow trailing from the cabin. They did not seem to begin or end anywhere, almost angelic, as the morning sun glistened, and Dan realized that he was all alone.

    (750 words total)

  10. dancerr says:

    The last house at the end of the world looked out over all the lines that had yet to be drawn. Blank white was peppered with half formed ideas of life. It’s what anyone who travels to it wants from it.

    Logan stood at the backdoor, looking out to the empty horizon. Dotting the snowy emptiness were footprints left by those that had come before. He knows they were there, but doesn’t know anything more.

    When someone gets to the end of the world everything they’ve ever touched forgets them. The lines of their lives are covered in fresh snow, which was their goal even if they didn’t want it to be.

    The footsteps didn’t make sense to Logan. If people make it to the end of the world then their tracks would vanish under new snow. But he couldn’t remember who was here before, so they must have gone. But…

    Logan’s job was the final chance for anyone on their journey. At his house anyone was allowed a night’s stay and a hot meal- nothing special, just a cot and some eggs and coffee. In the morning he would give them a small bag. If they opened it, they would go back the way they came, and if not, then they would head out the back door.

    Some time ago a young woman with only half of a head of hair woke up and came to Logan’s kitchen with a limp. It took her an hour to decide to look into the bag or not. When she did, Logan watched her go down the cobblestone footpath back to wherever she came from, wondering if he should have given her a walking stick. No, he decided, her choice.

    A couple of other people stick around Logan’s memory. Why shouldn’t the person who was here last night?

    Around nightfall he was still alone, that he knew, since he let the water boil over and no one was there to make fun of his carelessness. Whoever this was came late and left before Logan could wake up, which means they never got their eggs and coffee or had a chance to look in the bag.

    Maybe they never stopped? They went straight through. That would be rude, thought Logan, and it confounded him someone would walk through a house and not inquire to its occupants. A long journey should teach manners before it ends.

    But also, this person was so disinterested in their last chance that the bag meant nothing. Logan didn’t know what to make of that. Why wouldn’t someone want the opportunity, even if just to refuse it? It normally galvanizes his guests, giving them the energy for that final slog of their trip.

    Was this person so motivated that nothing needed to have been done to ensure their arrival? But no, this person didn’t make it. Their footsteps wouldn’t be there any more.

    Logan looked out onto the footsteps, disappearing into the lineless horizon. Should he go out to help? Nothing could be worse than being close enough to the end of the world and not able to see the promise it holds.

    But Logan hadn’t left his house in some time. And he couldn’t go to the end of the world. Then he wouldn’t be the same anymore.

    The house was what he knew. The cots, the eggs, the coffee, the bag. They gave him his direction. Other people would come and he’d give it to them. Someone didn’t need any of that.

    Insecurity is a waste of time. One must make oneself secure. Logan needed to know who didn’t need him.

    He stepped into the first footprint outside his backdoor. And then the second.

  11. NMorgan8 says:

    Blake stands on his porch, bundled against the wind, and grabs an armload of wood from the woodpile when he sees footprints leading away from his house.
    Puzzled, he goes back into the house, puts on his snow shoes and grabs his shotgun. Then he heads back out into the bitter cold and follows the prints.
    He is assessing the prints as he trudges along. He has been alone a long time and doesn’t relish any kind of confrontation. By the depth and size of the prints, he doesn’t think it could be a very large person. Hopefully he won’t need the shotgun.
    The prints lead him into the woods where the snow isn’t as deep. He removes his snow shoes and leans them up against a tree. They will just slow him down in here. He is proceeding slowly when suddenly he sees a form huddled against a tree ahead of him.
    He hurries to it and sees that it is a boy, maybe 12 or 13 year old, and he appears to be asleep or unconscious.
    The man tries to awaken the boy, but to no avail. He feels for a pulse and finds one in his neck, but his breathing is shallow and his pulse is weak. He lifts him carefully and hoists him over his shoulder, heading back home. He will definitely need to put his snow shoes back on to make it back to the house through the deep snow carrying his burden.
    He carefully sets the boy down while he reattaches the snowshoes to his boots, then hoists the boy back over his shoulder, grabs his shotgun and heads back to the house. It is slightly uphill, but he is used to exerting himself cutting wood and hunting game, so it isn’t too taxing on him. He wonders who this boy is and how he came to be way out here.
    Once back in the warmth of the house, the man sets the boy on the couch in front of the crackling fire and gets a blanket. He covers him, trying to get his body temperature back up so the boy will wake up. He needs to get fluids into him, but is afraid if he tries while he is unconscious, the boy will choke.
    He pours himself a cup of coffee and sits in the chair opposite the couch, watching for signs of life.
    After what seemed an eternity, the boy stirred. His eyes fluttered and then flew open. He looked confused and frightened.
    “Don’t worry, boy. You’re not in any danger here.” His voice sounds alien in his ears. He hasn’t spoken aloud to anyone in a very long time. “What’s your name?”
    The boy looks at him for a long time before he speaks. “I am William,” he says slowly. “Are you Blake Morgan?”
    Blake looks surprised. How does this boy know his name? “Yes.” He waits for the boy to continue.
    “Well, I guess you are my dad.”
    While Blake absorbs this information, the boy tells him how he found him. He had searched on the internet and once he had found the location of the man who was his real father, he had run away from home, hitchhiked and walked until he had found the place. He had been exhausted when he found the house and it was snowing hard by then. He couldn’t find a way to sneak into the house, so he had gone into the woods to sleep, thinking he would come back in the daylight. He guessed it had been too cold to sleep in the woods, so he hadn’t woken up until he found himself here.
    Blake saw his former wife in this boy’s face, so he knew it was all true. After their divorce was final, they had met to say goodbye. Several bottles of wine later, they had made love one last time. He had left town the next day, having bought this place. He was twenty years older than Laura and he hadn’t wanted a child. He was ready for retirement in the woods and that is where he headed once his marriage was over.
    After 13 years of isolation, he looks at William and knows that his time alone is over. He has a son.
    William is looking expectantly at him. “Can I stay ….. Dad?”
    In that moment, Blake knows that he will do whatever it takes to keep this boy with him. Without hesitation, he says yes.

  12. jworsham says:

    “Proof”

    His obsession had driven them all away, one by one, over the years. But his passion never faltered, and his conviction that he was right served as a shield against any feelings of regret.
    The morning after the snowstorm, the old man found the indisputable proof he needed.
    He had heard sounds outside his lonely home in the night, but assumed that the raccoons were back, digging through his garbage for the chicken bones from his dinner. Never did the old man imagine that the one he had been searching for all these years would simply walk up to his house—in the middle of a blizzard, no less.
    Yet the footprints spoke for themselves. Excitedly, carefully, he snapped pictures of the prints. One shot from long range to show the distance covered on foot (impressive given the conditions, speaking to the strength possessed by the walker). Several more shots from close range provided a clear look at a previously elusive subject.
    Evidence collected, he walked purposefully back to his home. He put on a pot of coffee, and began reviewing each of the images from his camera. Now was not the time to make rash mistakes. He had been fooled before, and was determined never to be embarrassed again.
    An hour later, confident that his photographs provided conclusive evidence, he picked up the phone. First on the list was his ex-wife. Naturally, she witnessed his obsession more than anyone else and deserved to know that it was not all in vain. He was not surprised to hear the doubt in her voice, the exasperation, but he did not let her arguments sway him.
    Next on the list were his children. All three were grown and out of their mother’s home. All three sent him cards on his birthday, but rarely responded to his calls. Today was no different. He left excited, tearful voicemails for each of them, ending each with a whispered, “I found him,” vindication for years of tireless searching.
    Lastly, he called his contact at the local newspaper, his biggest skeptic. Over the years, he had placed similar phone calls, professing that he had the evidence he needed, but always came up short in convincing the reporter. The scraps of hair he collected, the blurry photographs and videos shot, the sounds recorded in the night—all did nothing to sway the stoic journalist.
    This time was different though, he promised himself. He held his breath, listening to the phone ring on the other end, once, twice, three times.
    A soft cough, followed by, “Hello?”
    “Hello to you!” he practically shouted. “It’s been a long time, how are you?”
    A sigh. “Listen, I don’t have time for any of your so-called ‘evidence.’ Give it up.”
    “I knew you would react this way, but trust me, I’m not wasting your time.”
    He waited for a rebuttal or a hang-up, but heard none. He continued, “I just sent you the pictures. They’re clear and unedited. There’s no denying it now. Bigfoot is real, and you’ll be surprised to know that he wears size nine snow boots.”

  13. Bria says:

    He stood, gun in hand, his face expressionless, blank. Even as he watched the old man sleep, he stifled the fire of his thoughts; this was an action defined by the dark.

    This dark action required a key. Saul scanned the room, searching for the perfect hiding place. He picked up the picture on the desk. The picture—a crimson rose—seemed out of place. He popped the back off the frame.

    A paper, folded, creased, almost ripped down the fold, fluttered onto the floor. A paper heart. Saul picked it up and, since he had been trained to leave things as they were, he was careful to not rip the paper when he opened it. The paper revealed the man’s real heart: a young girl on a swing set, her curls twirling and twirling behind her, framing a face that looked like–

    Carly.

    The name flared into re-existence inside his head. Saul returned the pictures, pushing the resurfacing memory down and drowning it in the shadows of his mind.

    Next, he checked the man’s nightstand. Upon it sat a few books and a knife. Saul flipped through the books, despite knowing the key wouldn’t be hidden within; that would be too easy. His gaze lingered on the knife. It was a beautiful USMC fighting knife with a seven inch blade and a customized handle.

    My father would’ve liked this man, Saul thought. His thoughts simmered, glowing embers in the blackness.

    He stood, once again staring at the old man. The man’s face was calm in the deepness of slumber. His face was well-worn, wrinkles splaying out from the corners of his eyes, and wrinkles pulling his cheeks down, as if he were melting away with time.

    A silver chain wrapped around his neck and escaped under the old man’s shirt.

    As soon as he saw it, Saul knew that’s where the key would be. I win, Saul thought. I kill him to get the key and then plunder his house. I’ll take the laptop first.

    He raised his gun and–

    I’ll take his knife too, he thought. And with that, the memory pounced, bursting into flames and lighting his mind with a clearness not often known to him.

    In his mind’s eye, he saw his father pocketing his own knife before chemo. To fight off death, he had said. Ignored by doctors, the knife, by its presence alone, allowed his father to gut death, sending it scurrying away; the cancer retreated.

    Saul beat the fire down, trying to regain control of his thoughts, trying to displace the fiery thoughts with the apathetic ones he was so good at.

    My father died. This old man will too. And Saul sighted down the gun.

    But what happened to his knife?

    The memory once again capitalized on the distraction and emerged; the embers had been blown to life again.

    The knife had been in its sheath on his father’s hip when death had returned. Death was a phoenix, it turned out. It had been reborn stronger. His father’s knife had been ineffective against death’s semi-truck, and so it fell to the pavement, blood tracing its blade.

    The knife will be useless against my gun also.

    The old man shifted in his bed, bringing his wedding-banded hand up to the key.

    The fire consumed Saul’s mind. My father wore a ring like that. I wear a ring like that. Carly is the product of my ring. Will that girl in the picture, the girl who looks so much like Carly, ask about this man, her grandfather? Carly asked. Who will tell her what happened to him? What will they say? Shot by a hired man in the night? Shot to obtain a key? Carly—the girl, I mean—will be devastated.

    His finger twitched. He saw Carly crying, her blue eyes red, and he lowered his gun.

    He swore, because he could not leave another little girl grandfatherless.

    Saul knew they would send someone else. He knew this, and he knew too that they would send someone after him, but still he left the room, left the house, and walked through the snow. They would send someone to kill the man who could not kill because of memories. Memories! He swore again.

    But he smiled. His footsteps would betray his presence. However, the old man would never know that he had almost died that night. He would never know that, ironically enough, death had saved his life.

  14. wesshockley says:

    Jackson’s lips were blue and his toes and fingers swollen by a burning cold. In the corner a dry heat billowed from a wood stove and filled the cabin with that certain kind of winter warmth. He opened his eyes to the morning light and gasped, trying to suck in as much air as possible. His chest hurt and his vision cleared from a hazy fog back to a standard 20/40. He darted his eyes back and forth across the room and tried to remember. Remember anything about the night before, the week before, the month before. He failed.
    The cabin felt familiar all the same. He stood up and pulled his feet from his bed and rested them on the dry, rough unfinished floorboards. He began to stand. Pushing weight onto his heels first and then onto the balls of his feet enduring the pain that built in slow waves as he did. He flinched. The blisters on his feet began to give way one by one as he limped over to his desk. An empty bourbon bottle, some bills, a letter from a Victoria – all of it vaguely familiar. His memory was not as quick to return as his vision had been. It was his cabin; he knew that much.
    He was not hungry. He didn’t feel hung over. He really didn’t feel much of anything, just the still loneliness of a hermit who lives alone in a mountain cabin. It’s that still loneliness that one sometimes longs for in the city. The kind that sometimes causes that longing to become an obsession until one day, almost without reason and certainly without announcement the afflicted person packs light, withdrawals their bank account and heads west into the mountains. Jackson walked to the window over the sink and looked out into the beautiful isolation. Snow fell from the sky, melting as it hit the warm glass and between the streams of melted snowfall he could see two birds. A red cardinal chirped on a branch and sang to his brown mate perched upon an iron casted water hand-pump. Snow blanketed all. The scene was lovely.
    “I’m never coming back,” said Jackson, the words leaving his mouth in a steam.
    He took the dried crust of yesterday’s bread off the counter and stumbled to his front door. He had been slowly acclimating himself to the pain coming from his feet. This however didn’t prepare him for the damage done upon his hands. He clenched the rusted door handle and spasms tenses up his fingers and forearms and he hunched over in pain. The spasms repeated over and over. Each time another one struck his hand would once again clench down upon the handle inducing yet another spasm until the pain elevated itself to the point of overstimulation of his nerves and he was able to feel nothing. And so, he turned the handle and stepped outside onto the porch.
    A long trail of footprints snaked in the snow from his home into the meadow below his house. Jackson’s memory failed him yet again. He knew in the Spring-time the meadow would be filled with tiny yellow flowers and dark green, knee-high grasses. He knew that the snowmelt from the surrounding mountains fed a stream that ran through the meadow and that the stream was right now somewhere out there beneath the whiteness, frozen. But the footprints, fresh as they were – or most anything else that mattered – drew only a bright white screen from his mind.
    Jackson stepped out. The cardinals sang and so he threw the crust into the snow beneath them and they fed. He was barefoot and he moved into the snow, placing his feet into the steps left by the previous traveler. The snow eased his body’s pain. He stepped again. He walked step by step in the deep footsteps of the previous night into the meadow and across the frozen stream. He stepped and with each he remembered more and more until he collapsed at the edge of the pines at the ice-smoldered feet of Jackson Peters, dead by exposure and alone at age 32.

  15. tommy_piro says:

    It was early morning as Michael John Leonard had awaken from a deep sleep in his cabin that was nestled deep in the woods of Northern New Jersey.

    There was a heavy snowfall that had come in over night and something led him to take a peek out of the front living room window to see just how bad it was. At first glance, you’d think the majority of snow from the storm had accumulated right in front of his home, though the weather nor the season ever bothered him, there was one thing that quickly put a knot in his stomach. As Michael pulled back the blinds, he paused in complete silence and slight shock at the sight of a set of footprints leading away from his home. Whoever it may have been, had to be there since the night before, when the snowfall had just began. He took a few slow steps back, turned his body toward the fireplace and stared at himself in the mirror above, looking deeply into his own eyes. Michael then proceeded to grab a bottle of scotch half-full sitting atop the shelf, poured himself a double-shot and began to sweat.

    For a man who feared nothing, a man who spent years of his life living alone in the woods, surviving as best as he could using the natural resources God had given him in his local environment, something irked inside of him and the scotch was just enough to take a bite at the uneasy feeling lying dormant inside of his stomach. He thought once again of the footprints. Why only one set? When did the person arrive and when could he possibly have left?

    There was only one thought that prompted Michael to drop his glass of scotch onto the hardwood floor as he began to shake with fear; he thought to himself – it was Johnny. Michael only feared one thing, but it’s been several years since his feelings of insecurity had subsided but this very morning it had all come rushing back to him like an old distant memory from a past attempted to be long forgotten. He finally realized whose footprints they were, and just that notion alone put his body into a deep and still shock; it was his dead brother Johnny Ray Leonard.

    Johnny was two years his senior, and as kids growing up in Sussex County, New Jersey, he and his younger brother would make do with whatever was around them in the deep woods, in order to have a good time before coming home to Mom and Pop at the dinner table. He was the type of older brother who liked to use his sibling as a subject in all his scare tactics. Every night, Johnny would do something unusual to scare the living daylights out of his brother, and Michael, still to this day closing in on his late 40′s, would become frightened at just the memories alone. Since Johnny’s disappearance, where the local coroner had determined his never returning as an indicator he was no longer alive, Michael spent his days and nights drinking cordially by the fire, pondering from time to time the truth behind it all; what had really happened?

    As fearful as he became once spotting the footprints slowly becoming covered with a newly fallen dusting of snow, he thought that maybe, just maybe, Johnny could still be alive. Michael put himself back together, threw on some thermals and a heavy winter jacket and grabbed his shotgun in case he may uncover something else, possibly a thief who had decided to spend the night. He opened the front door, and after doing the sign of the cross, took a walk outside to investigate the situation at hand. Michael began to follow the steps from his front door that led about a few hundred feet into the woods that covered the entire property of his cabin.

    Slowly, Michael stepped along the way, against a slight wind from the sky above until he was urged to make a complete stop. The tracks ended near a tree that Johnny and him used to sit under and dream as youngsters did back then of life, love and everything a young boy could imagine. As he peered closely at the root of the old oak not far from his home, he uncovered a note and in a familiar script it had said:

    “Don’t be afraid, brother, it’s okay. I’m with God now. Love, Johnny.”

  16. Peredur says:

    Never more alone

    First, I am amazed I can read what is in front of me. This I wrote yesterday, knowing that heavy snowfall would come overnight.

    Then I gaze in wonder out of my window at the great white world beyond. The mosaic of hedge-bound fields is now barely perceptible, those hedges just hidden seams in a blank tapestry. It’s impossible to distinguish the lane except by some trees I remember that march alongside it, their sagging branches a drapery of snow. The only punctuation on the monotonous white parchment is a single set of footprints. Still undisturbed and unfilled by more snowfall, they lead away from my door across the garden into the fields.

    Of course I had seen those hills and fields covered by snow around my isolated cottage many a year in my long life, yet never with such clear vision. It was rather through jaundiced eyes that I had looked out, not just across the landscape but at the world at large since Maria had died. Never had I felt so lonely yet society was inimical to me, of value only as a source of provisions to keep body and soul together.

    Nor had I experienced such inner peace until now. The numbness I felt has gone. I don’t mean the emotional numbness I endured for months after losing my dear wife. I mean the last physical sensation I remember since my snow tomb shuddered the life out of me. How I got back inside the house again I don’t recall. But here I am, home again, this time for eternity.

    For the past ten years since Maria’s demise, sensing her presence still in the house, I had not wanted to seek the company of anyone else. I couldn’t see her of course but it was enough knowing that she was still there for me. Alone I lived the hermit’s life, never wanting to go out, to be in a crowd or away from her. Recently I had not even driven to the shops, the weather being so bad, and stocks of food in the house eventually ran out.

    So I am here where I always want to remain. I had never been a believer in the afterlife or of ghosts but I still hoped I would see her again one day. If there was a heaven, I wasn’t interested in going there alone. Yet I can see her sitting beside me now, neither of us in pain, fearing nothing, needing nothing but each other’s company.

    Now too, a wind is whipping up out there, blowing the snow off the fields onto the lane. It will be days before anyone can get here if they come looking for me. Even longer for the thaw to come and reveal the frozen remains of a grieving old widower fallen from the cliff top where the footprints ran out.

    483 words

  17. Peredur says:

    Never more alone

    First, I am amazed I can read what is in front of me. This I wrote yesterday, knowing that heavy snowfall would come overnight.

    Then I gaze in wonder out of my window at the great white world beyond. The mosaic of hedge-bound fields is now barely perceptible, those hedges just hidden seams in a blank tapestry. It’s impossible to distinguish the lane except by some trees I remember that march alongside it, their sagging branches a drapery of snow. The only punctuation on the monotonous white parchment is a single set of footprints. Still undisturbed and unfilled by more snowfall, they lead away from my door across the garden into the fields.

    Of course I had seen those hills and fields covered by snow around my isolated cottage many a year in my long life, yet never with such clear vision. It was rather through jaundiced eyes that I had looked out, not just across the landscape but at the world at large since Maria had died. Never had I felt so lonely yet society was inimical to me, of value only as a source of provisions to keep body and soul together.

    Nor had I experienced such inner peace until now. The numbness I felt has gone. I don’t mean the emotional numbness I endured for months after losing my dear wife. I mean the last physical sensation I remember since my snow tomb shuddered the life out of me. How I got back inside the house again I don’t recall. But here I am, home again, this time for eternity.

    For the past ten years since Maria’s demise, sensing her presence still in the house, I had not wanted to seek the company of anyone else. I couldn’t see her of course but it was enough knowing that she was still there for me. Alone I lived the hermit’s life, never wanting to go out, to be in a crowd or away from her. Recently I had not even driven to the shops, the weather being so bad, and stocks of food in the house eventually ran out.

    So I am here where I always want to remain. I had never been a believer in the afterlife or of ghosts but I still hoped I would see her again one day. If there was a heaven, I wasn’t interested in going there alone. Yet I can see her sitting beside me now, neither of us in pain, fearing nothing, needing nothing but each other’s company.

    Now too, a wind is whipping up out there, blowing the snow off the fields onto the lane. It will be days before anyone can get here if they come looking for me. Even longer for the thaw to come and reveal the frozen remains of a grieving old widower fallen from the cliff top where the footprints ran out.

  18. Peredur says:

    Never more alone

    First, I am amazed I can read what is in front of me. This I wrote yesterday, knowing that heavy snowfall would come overnight.

    Then I gaze in wonder out of my window at the great white world beyond. The mosaic of hedge-bound fields is now barely perceptible, those hedges just hidden seams in a blank tapestry. It’s impossible to distinguish the lane except by some trees I remember that march alongside it, their sagging branches a drapery of snow. The only punctuation on the monotonous white parchment is a single set of footprints. Still undisturbed and unfilled by more snowfall, they lead away from my door across the garden into the fields.

    Of course I had seen those hills and fields covered by snow around my isolated cottage many a year in my long life, yet never with such clear vision. It was rather through jaundiced eyes that I had looked out, not just across the landscape but at the world at large since Maria had died. Never had I felt so lonely yet society was inimical to me, of value only as a source of provisions to keep body and soul together.

    Nor had I experienced such inner peace until now. The numbness I felt has gone. I don’t mean the emotional numbness I endured for months after losing my dear wife. I mean the last physical sensation I remember since my snow tomb shuddered the life out of me. How I got back inside the house again I don’t recall. But here I am, home again, this time for eternity.

    For the past ten years since Maria’s demise, sensing her presence still in the house, I had not wanted to seek the company of anyone else. I couldn’t see her of course but it was enough knowing that she was still there for me. Alone I lived the hermit’s life, never wanting to go out, to be in a crowd or away from her. Recently I had not even driven to the shops, the weather being so bad, and stocks of food in the house eventually ran out.

    So I am here where I always want to remain. I had never been a believer in the afterlife or of ghosts but I still hoped I would see her again one day. If there was a heaven, I wasn’t interested in going there alone. Yet I can see her sitting beside me now, neither of us in pain, fearing nothing, needing nothing but each other’s company.

    Now too, a wind is whipping up out there, blowing the snow off the fields onto the lane. It will be days before anyone can get here if they come looking for me. Even longer for the thaw to come and reveal the frozen remains of a grieving old widower fallen from the cliff top where the footprints ran out.

    482 words

  19. HuffmanHanni says:

    The Farmhouse
    (694 words)

    “You are evil,” I said, panting like a dog on a hot summer day. Except, it wasn’t summer, but January 1st and the temperature was only ten degrees. My sneakered feet crunched rhythmically against the icy crust as I jogged alongside my trainer, Barry. He was clad in snug-fitting red and black racing shorts and jersey, he was riding some fancy racing bike.

    Barry laughed, his breath making clouds in the air. “I am not, Charlene. Just trying to keep you motivated. Your next task is to catch up to me!” He sprinted off, the rear tire kicking up a powdery mist into my face.

    “Jerk,” I muttered. I refused to speed up, unsure my scorching thighs and cracking knees would allow me. So, I maintained my slow even pace as I watched his red and black figure disappear around the bend in the trail.

    Gray clouds approached from my right, looming like Barry does over the weight bar at the gym. The frosty air had grown heavy and I sensed snow. I squinted to find my trainer but couldn’t locate him. My knees rattled in protest and my thighs tightened as I picked up the pace.

    Dense snowflakes dropped from the sky. The visibility was quickly getting worse and I still hadn’t spotted my trainer. A cold fire burned within my chest as I stopped and stood. Shielding my eyes from the snow, I scanned the tumbleweed decorated horizon. Nothing.

    “Barry!” I called his name out over and over. I scanned the horizon again as the snow changed direction and now fell diagonally. I walked a few feet, continuing to call out his name.

    “Charlene!” I faintly heard my name.

    “Barry!” I rushed to where I thought the sound came from. The cries of “Charlene” grew louder and louder until I finally saw red and black.

    “Barry, what happened?” He was lying on the ground. The front tire was bent and the chain appeared to have snapped off the gears. He had a scraped knee and his elbow was bloody.

    “I tried to turn around and find you when the bike must have hit a rock or something. Next thing I knew, I tumbled and was lying on the ground.”

    I helped him up and noticed his lips were turning purple. “We need to find shelter and now,” I said.

    “I think I saw a farmhouse somewhere north of here.”

    “Okay. Can you walk?” Barry nodded. “Good, then follow me.” I held out my hand for him and we walked what I hoped was north.

    We walked about half a mile before a brown structure appeared before us. The rickety wooden structure swayed and groaned in the howling wind. Roof tiles came flying off and I ducked my head as one narrowly missed me. I looked at Barry, his lips were now a solid shade of navy, and began to walk towards the farmhouse.

    As we got to the door, we pushed with all of our strength to get it opened, the wind providing additional resistance. Once inside, I quickly took off my outer jacket and wrapped it around Barry who had sunk to the floor. His teeth chattered and the tip of his nose was red.

    “Barry, you okay?” I yelled over the wind. His eyes were shut and he nodded. I wrapped my scarf around him and sat down next to him. I hugged him tightly as I watched the farmhouse undulate with every robust gust of wind. Individual planks of wood started to snap off the structure and soon, a hole opened up in the roof.

    “It’ll be okay,” I said to Barry. “The storm will pass over.” He continued to shiver, his body convulsing violently with every gust of wind.

    I closed my eyes, saying a prayer to God, as the cracks of brittle wood rang in my ears. Glacial tears ran down my face as the earth quaked beneath us. The wind was unsympathetic and relentless. It pounded into the farmhouse like a bull in a china shop. The wood shattered and I held Barry as tight as possible as the farmhouse crushed us into a snowy grave.

  20. lukewiget says:

    Agreed. Cool story @ bhunt.

  21. lukewiget says:

    January Six
    (747 words)

    Wilson Willowdell shaved his face. He was naked at the mirror and a mustache kit lay open in front of him. Strapped inside, two black brushes and a pair of small and sharp scissors. He worked the scissors to his thin, dark mustache, taking off just a shade. When he was done it was even and good. You could not have drawn it on any straighter than he cut it. It was Sunday, the only day that Wilson cooked for himself and no one else. The other days had him attending the ancient skillet at the town’s lone dinner. He cooked slowly but not many complained. His French toast alone saved him from any real criticism. The toast was fluffy and light as new snow.
    He ladled water around the sink with his hands until the shavings were gone and reached for his robe on the hook on the door and walked into the bedroom where he stepped into his slippers. He smoothed the blankets on the bed. As he did his rounds he pictured the parts of his day so that he could see them separately and all at once. He envisioned his meals the way sometimes people prepare an outfit before donning it. Pressed coffee, then to the porch to see that there was seed in the birdfeeder. Biscuits and gravy and more coffee and eggs and pancakes and bacon and the dishes done before noon and a nap after that.
    The water he stopped just before the pot blew. A few fingers’ worth of water atop the grounds until they blossomed to almost golden. Then the rest of the water for the two-and-a-half minutes. While the Minute Minder timer wound back to zero, Wilson looked out the kitchen window, so thin it was that he could hear the finishing-end of the snowstorm. He listened to it fall. Like far-off lake waves. Softer than rainfall. His Sunday mug was by the press and was clean and white and waiting and so was a snow that he knew had smoothed out the world around his singlewide.
    On the porch the feeder was full. Not many birds this late in winter. He breathed in and his coffee and the snow and all of it filled his great stomach. The trees were spangled with snow. So was the drive and somewhere beneath that the main road. It all shone. It was winter. The spangled everything. It was a new year. The bacon waited. Wilson Willowdell smiled into his mug. The thin mustache straightened.
    From a couple steps down he saw, cutting right through the middle of the quarter-mile drive, from the porch on until the bend, a set of retreating footprints. His son’s no doubt. Ambled down from the neighbors’ where he lived with a man and woman whose kids were away at college. Gabriel had lived half his thirty years without a mother. She was gone by a car crash. Gabriel had traveled and earned half a degree in too many subjects for any to count in Wilson’s mind. Now he dropped by constantly and drank Wilson’s scotch on the porch and used the cordless phone until the batteries were gone. Just a halfway prodigal son because never left enough for it to seem as if he had returned. He lingered. Wilson knew his scotch was gone. None of the other usual signs, though. No empty glass on the handrail or butts on the steps. Wilson sighed and sipped his coffee and walked off of the steps into the new snow.
    He crouched to inspect the impressions and quickly stood back up and straightened the robe. His fat gut was orderly. The weight of it pushed out as evenly as meat within the casing of a well-made sausage.
    “You should have died, not her.”

    He looked out for a while. The coffee was gone. He ran his hand over his fresh face feeling for wayward hairs, any out of tune with the rest. There were one or two. It was cold. The snow was slowly penetrating his slippers. What he wanted now was to trim the hairs. And the bacon waited. And he could see now that next to his foot the tracks were too small to be a man’s. They were more a woman’s. And besides, whether of ghosts or of the son or maybe just shadows among all that bright, they would be whited out in one hour’s time. He walked back in.

  22. Lisa PK says:

    The First Snowfall of the Year
    (740 words)

    Ian lay chilled under his electric blanket and watched the snow fall outside his bedroom window. How Lindsey had loved the snow. She had looked forward to a romantic walk together under the first snowfall of every year. Their first kiss had been on one of those walks. He drifted off to sleep, his thoughts of her transformed into fitful dreams of her falling through the ice; him trying desperately to save her. How many times had he relived her death?
    He awoke just before sunrise, drenched in sweat from the heat of the blanket and from the dreams. After showering he set about making breakfast. It had been a heavy snowfall and was still snowing. “The first snow of the year”, he heard Lindsey exclaim wistfully. Ian smiled and glanced out the window. The once brown and green landscape had changed to white overnight. “I love you”, he heard her giggle.
    Ian stepped closer to the window and squinted. There in the snow were a single set of footprints leading away from the front door and down the walkway to the one lane road, and as far as he could see. How could that be? There’s been no one here but me for weeks. He stood bewildered, gazing out the window. If someone had knocked on his door during the night there would have been two sets of footprints, a coming set and going set. Ian scrambled into his coat and boots and stepped out the front door, following those footprints as fast as he could in the snow. He didn’t stop to put on his hat and gloves, but clumsily put them on as he walked. He had to know whose footprints they were and why they began at his front door.
    He followed them down the street and through the town square. He walked on down Main Street through the Historical District of town and gazed at the beautiful, old Victorian homes under blankets of white. Lindsey had loved to come this way. He paused in front of Aunt Mimi’s Café and considered going in for coffee and a cream cheese cinnamon bun hot and fresh out of the oven; one of Lindsey’s favorites. This was where he had proposed to her. The smell of coffee and he promise of warmth beckoned him to come in, but the footprints and piqued his curiosity and if he hoped to find out who’s they were he should move on.
    Ian continued his trek through the quiet streets of town. Smoke billowed from the chimneys and lights glowed warm in the widows as the world began to awaken from slumber to a winter-scape of snow. His heart pounded in his chest as he rounded the corner by the school and saw where the footprints led him. Faster he walked, one set of footprints ahead of and two behind him, toward the little pond where it had all began, and where it had ended. The footprints continued through the gazebo, where he now stood gazing out over the pond, and ended at the ponds edge. He had followed them here looking for answers and was left instead with more questions. Whose prints were they? Why did they end at the pond? The pond was not yet frozen enough for ice skating, had someone walked out there and fallen through the ice? Tears filled his eyes as he remembered Lindsey laughing and skating ahead of him, suddenly disappearing. He’d rushed toward her, ice cracking beneath his skates, then lying on his stomach, helplessly staring into the hole through which she had fallen.
    He wiped the tears from his eyes. He could almost see her walking toward him from the pond, blonde hair flowing from beneath her pink, knit cap and over her matching scarf. She stepped up into the gazebo, just as she had done years ago, skates dangling over her shoulder, so beautiful that he couldn’t breathe. She took is face in her hands and kissed him, no longer a memory, but real. He opened his eyes as she faded away. “I love you Ian”, her voice echoed as she vanished from sight. Ian stood pondering the morning’s events. He had heard her voice in the house just before spotting the footprints that had led him to all of her favorite places. Now he understood that even death could not keep her from him and the first snowfall of the year.

  23. ajay64 says:

    A Farewell Gift.

    Words : 750

    The door of the timeworn wooden cottage opened slackly, and revealed a raddled, black haired scrawny man who wore all blacks, and didn’t seem to have passed his early twenties.

    The snow was giving the eroded door ample resistance, making it relatively hard to open, and, much to that man’s displeasure, making it creak shrilly. He hated loud noises in early morning, as he loved a blissful morning; his late mother have made him addicted to them, as she always sung for him melodiously at the said time of day.

    The man breathed deeply, and rubbed his bleary eyes.

    Last night had been both heavenly and tormenting for him, as he had a wonderful dream -or was it real…he wasn’t certain- about a petite, brown-eyed girl who had impeccable tanned, silky smooth skin that induced an exotic smell of flowers and exotic herbs.

    He remembered playing with her dirty brown colored curly locks, whilst she had made him feel alive after ages of hollowness that had consumed his exuberant temperament.

    He wished that it wasn’t a dream because he was sick of living alone, and being avoided like plague by the very people whom he once knew as friends, soul brothers and sisters. He wished that he would see her again soon, as he yearned for someone who will love him unconditionally. But most of all, he yearned for family of his own.

    The man shook his head to remove any fleeting sleepiness, and took another deep breathe. Then, like a hawk looking for its pray, he looked here and there, and scoffed when his mind registered that the world around him was sleeping under a sparkling layer of pearly-white snow.

    He hated snow, or more likely, he hated winter, as winter was the season that had stolen his parents from him, and had made him a mute, or more likely as other people called him, ‘The dumb guy of Green Hill.’
    He went inside his cabin and brought out a shovel and a sack that smelled badly. It was the time for his daily morning work; a work that he never forgot to do. His father had drilled this work in his mind; not that he minded it. His father had been one of those few people who understood the value of nature, and did whatever he could to save her, or any part of her.

    He slowly closed the door and started to walk firmly while tugging the smelly sack, but he stopped when he saw something unusual.

    What in the world? He thought, as his eyes narrowed on a set of footprints that were leading away from his house.

    He let go his smelly sack that made a strange squishy sound when it hit the snow. While holding his shovel steadily, he bent on his left knee and started to inspect the footprints.

    They were human footprints; he was sure, and they went toward the direction where the tree he was trying to save was. His heart skipped a beat in fear as a foreboding thought of his favorite tree sliced in two pieces entered in his mind, making his eyes widened fearfully. His breathing became labored, his body started to tremble slightly, and before he knew, he started to run madly.

    He ran as he had never run before, as if his life depended upon it.

    Fear tighten its grip around him every time he took a step, making him think thoughts that he didn’t want to think. The cold wind was piercing, but he didn’t care. He stumbled many times on his way, but he always stood up and started running again. He had to see if his tree was okay, or had fate stolen it from him.

    When he reached near the tree, he was panting. The tree was still there, much to his relief. But, surprisingly, there was something small under it, a basket maybe. Slowly and cautiously, he moved near the basket and unfolded the thick blanket covering it tenderly, only to reveal an angelic, fragile looking baby sleeping soundly.

    He looked at the trunk of the tree, only to see a ‘Thank you, Daniel’ written beneath the pendent he remembered gifting her in his dream.

    That was the time he understood that the last night had not been a dream, and the girl had given him a precious gift.

    A precious gift called ‘Family.’

    His father’s words echoed in his head, ‘Nature takes care of those, who take care of her.’

  24. Komonio says:

    It was the cold air that knocked Chris wide awake. At 2:45 AM, the chill penetrated right to his heart until it seemed to come from inside of him. He whipped off the quilt, pulled on some socks and slipped his cell-phone into his pocket, emergency numbers already dialed. Stepping out from his bedroom, his eyes drifted to the hall where the wind blew freely.

    The door was wide open. A layer of snow frosted his living room. Leading down the street was a set of footprints, size 11. The old house creaked and groaned. Papers littered the floor; warranties, insurances, receipts. They had been left in a stack on the coffee table but the wind from the doorway had blown them off. Chris bent to collect the documents when he heard the curses echoing from the office upstairs. Someone was in his home. Roger.

    Chris was halfway up the stairs when he saw a shadow on the wall above. “Dammit!” a familiar voice muttered. Without a thought Chris bounded up the staircase, throwing a hand to the light-switch and illuminating the scene. Here in Chris’ office, documents were strewn across the floor. His drawers were emptied and their contents were stacked on his desk. The burglar, crouching with a handful of papers clutched to his chest, stared at the far wall. He made no eye-contact with his victim.

    “Fancy meeting you here, Roger,” Chris grunted, shutting down his phone. “You left the door open. Rather clumsy, don’t you think?”

    “Is that a gun in your pocket, Dad?” Roger asked, glancing at his father’s waist. Chris revealed the phone and Roger laughed. “Forever the pacifist. Even when a burglar breaks in, you won’t defend your home.” Chris couldn’t take his eyes off the young man. Roger hadn’t changed much in fourteen years. His hair was thinner. The muscles and beard looked real good on his boy. His son, the killer, was now a man.

    “And what about you? Is this where your prosperous military career led you, breaking into old mens’ homes? You make quite the burglar.”

    “This ain’t no fortress, Dad. I broke in the back window and walked right out the front door.”

    “If you walked out, what are you doing back here?” Roger rolled his eyes.

    “Made a mistake and came back, that’s all. Grabbed the wrong papers.”

    “What are you doing?” Chris looked down to the life-insurance and tax-receipts under his feet. His eyes drifted to the papers crunched in Roger’s hands. The young man rose to his feet. He held a medical bill and vaccination booklet. “What are you looking for?” These last words were spoken softly, sincerely. Roger finally lifted his face. His eyes were filled with fire, a hatred Chris couldn’t remember.

    “It’s nothing,” Roger spat, stepping toward the stairs. He put an arm out to push his dad away, but Chris grabbed the fist, threatening to rip the papers out of his son’s grip. Roger’s eyes widened, hatred blazing.

    “Why are you stealing my medical bills?” Chris demanded.

    “Why do you care? It’s for my son.” Chris stared at his boy.

    “What son?”

    “Dawson has leukaemia. I need medical history, and I couldn’t just prance in here and ask.” Chris stepped back, releasing the papers.

    “You have a son?”

    “It’s been fourteen years, Dad! Your life may have ended when I left, but not mine. You’ve been missing out! I met a lieutenant and got married. I’ve got two boys.” Chris stared, speechless. The last time they spoke, Roger had announced his decision to join the military. The betrayal still hurt. For fourteen years, Chris had lived alone, waiting for the day Roger would hobble home to admit that Chris was right; fighting wasn’t the answer.

    “I’ve got to go.” This was no conversation Roger was eager to continue. His family was waiting. He stepped down the stairs. Chris’ voice echoed behind him.

    “That’s it? You’ve got nothing more to say?”

    “What is there to say?” Roger stopped half-way down the steps. “You always preached to me that violence was wrong, that those who defended their country were blood-thirsty killers, that war wasn’t good for anything. I’ve got news for you. We’ve been at war for fourteen years. You’ve launched just as many missiles as I have. Let me know when you’re ready to talk.”

    Chris stood in the stairway as Roger descended. The door slammed. The house was so cold.

  25. devika says:

    IBRAHIM

    (664 words)

    Ibrahim wakes up every day, and hopes the food will be gone. Most days, it isn’t. He used to put out clothes too, sometimes. But the clothes always remained, even when the food was gone.

    He closes his shop at eight every night. Of course, nobody really comes to the shop after seven these days, even when there’s no curfew on. But he likes to potter around behind the counter, tidying up, doing the accounts, postponing the inevitable. Then he walks slowly back to his cottage outside the main town.

    He passes a military check-post on the way, one of many in this place. It’s usually bright with light and the bonhomie of young soldiers who haven’t seen blood yet. There’s as much happiness in that one small building as there is in the rest of the town put together.

    The two soldiers on duty outside usually greet him. The soldiers know Ibrahim because they buy their cigarettes at his shop. He’s almost the only local they speak to.

    He always returns their greetings. Some days, when the trade at the shop has been slow because of news of bombings nearby, he offers them some of the leftover snacks. He knows he should give the food to the orphanage, but he thinks of these snacks as insurance. Pay a monthly premium so they don’t shoot him for a terrorist at the end.

    These soldiers are his son’s age, maybe a year or two younger. He wonders if they know about his son, if some tattle-tale in the town has whispered in their ears about the jihadi son of the shopkeeper. He wonders if his son’s photo and name are up on a board somewhere, labelled TERRORIST in bold red letters.

    He doesn’t know whom to blame. Should he blame his dead wife, her mind unscrewed over long years by a long-ago night of blood and fire? Should he blame the local maulvi for pouring poison into the young boys’ ears in every class? Should he blame these soldiers for their very presence? Or should he blame himself for always being too busy at the shop to be with his son?

    The closer he gets to his house, the slower he walks. Sometimes, he fantasizes about an alternate life, one in which his wife is alive and happy, and his son hasn’t run away to fight for a losing cause. He fantasizes that the house will be yellow and lit and noisy, waiting for him to arrive. His steps speed up in anticipation.

    And then he turns the corner, and the house is dark and empty and quiet. He slows down again, walks heavily up to the gate. He unlatches the gate, walks up the narrow path to the front door. The house smells musty when he steps inside, but there’s nothing he can do about that. He fixes himself dinner, eats. Then he prepares the bundle of food, and puts it outside the back door.

    Tonight, he smells snow in the air, maybe the ghost of a snowfall up in the mountains. He peers off into the darkness, at the hills hidden now in darkness. He thinks of his son, bundled up in a shawl, hugging his gun for warmth in a cave somewhere. He goes back inside, walks up to his bedroom, finds an old coat of his. He wraps the food in that.

    In the morning, the food is gone, and so is the coat. It has snowed heavily in the night, and a set of footsteps lead away from the house, towards the forested hills behind. He looks at those footsteps, and feels something burst and start burning inside his chest.

    He sits down heavily on the steps, cradles his head in his hand, stares at those footsteps. In a minute, he will get up and sweep those footsteps away. But for now, he stares at them, the only sign he has seen of his son in the last five years.

  26. MatthewTM says:

    (746 words)

    UNINVITED GUESTS

    I thought I lived alone until the snow fell.

    Most people, if they’re honest, prefer their own company. That’s why I live a hundred yards from anyone else. The house is falling to pieces, but property is all about location and this one’s perfect. That doesn’t mean I’m antisocial – I like people. Sometimes.

    Living in the middle of nowhere has other perks. When it snows, I can’t get my beat-up Hyundai out of the drive. This gives me a legitimate excuse to slack off work. Rather than fix computers and exchange passive-aggressive small talk in the office, I get to watch cable and eat cereal all day.

    The first snow came in late November. I dragged myself out of bed like any other Tuesday and went to the bathroom. I smiled as I saw the white glow through the frosted glass. When I opened the bedroom curtains, a thick crust covered the Hyundai and extended all the way up to the road. Then I noticed something strange.

    The snow was undisturbed except for a trough that led from my doorstep and came to an abrupt end in the middle of the lawn. I padded down the hall and peered through the glass in the front door. The tracks were too small to be left by a person, and there was no sign of what could have made them. Then, in a burst of white powder, an orange blur burst from a snowdrift. I slunk back into the hall and watched as a fox bounded toward the door. It undulated through the snow until it reached the house and, as quickly as it appeared, vanished into the foundations.

    I discovered that four of the vermin lived under my house. I got up early each morning to watch them. They’d creep out and wade through the snow to hunt. Two smaller ones – young, I guess – would spar while the other two searched for food. I’d curse at them and bang on the window, scaring them into the undergrowth. During the day, I’d mute the TV to listen for movement beneath my feet. Sometimes I’d wait an hour. When I heard their scratching, I’d beat the floor with a basketball boot. I didn’t know how long they’d been down there, but this was my home, not theirs.

    After the thaw, I mentioned the invaders to Kurt, one of my less irritating colleagues. He’s an outsider and a part-time man of the woods who, after careful consideration, offered to trap the foxes and make them into a hat for me (he’d keep the hat if I didn’t want it). I told him thanks, but I’d rather give them a chance to leave peacefully. I couldn’t stand to see their skins paraded on Kurt’s head every cold snap.

    My first attempt at negotiation with the foxes was repellent spray. I saturated the garden with the stuff for a week. If it had any effect, I saw more of them. In retaliation, they pulled a bag out of the trash and scattered old food across the path. I put a cinder block on the lid. They left their dirt on my doormat. I did my research. Digging up the earth around their den was, according the internet, a sure way to move them on. I crawled around to find the entrance, but I couldn’t get far enough under the house. They were winning the war and they knew it. They even stopped running when I banged on the windows. Their blood-curdling squawks provided the final insult. I’m sure they kept me awake on purpose. One late night, I reconsidered Kurt’s offer.

    The next morning, I set out to work with every intention of setting Kurt loose on my adversaries. As I stepped out of the front door, they were waiting for me on the lawn. Their eyes locked with mine and measured me, animal to animal. Five seconds: that’s all it took for them to judge that I wouldn’t follow through with the plan. They yawned and wandered calmly away. They won the war.

    The foxes didn’t bother me as much after that. The cinder block kept them out of the trash and they were much more considerate with their shrieks. I stopped banging on the windows and, as long as I didn’t listen for it, I couldn’t hear them under the house. I got used to not living alone.

    At least foxes don’t do small talk.

  27. SkiesOfYellow says:

    The snow had fallen heavy last night—weather forecasters, and hopefully common sense—had warned everyone to stay inside. A good two feet of snow had fallen outside, and everyone in Randy’s cul-du-sac seemed to have heeded those warnings: not one set of car tracks marred anyone’s driveway, and the yet unplowed street showed no signs of anyone trying to shove their way beyond the confines of their front doors. Well, almost no signs.
    Randy stood at his front door, staring out of the glass panels beside the heavy oaken frame at the set of small footprints that seemed to originate at his front door and disappeared somewhere around the old ash tree in the front yard. And yet, he’d been alone, without visitors, all night long. Where that fresh set of treads had come from…
    Nobody had knocked the night before, but then, if this was who he thought it was, they wouldn’t have knocked. No, Sherry had no use for door-knockers. Sherry would have merely stopped in and gone without a word.
    Randy did wish that she’d come in, though. He had a full pot of tea last night and would have been glad for the company.
    “Stubborn woman,” he said to the retreating footsteps, a small smile curling onto his lips.
    “You’re one to talk,” came the answer.
    Randy turned and saw the bird perched on the mantle. “Ah, there you are. I thought you’d gone without stopping in to say hello.”
    “And miss your cheery face,” the bird chirped. It flapped twice and leapt from the mantle, changing in midair to land on two human feet. She brushed a few feathery blue wisps of hair from her face. “Never.”
    “I suppose that means you’re not just checking in?”
    A humored smirk flitted across her face. “I’m here to collect for Mag.”
    “Has it been a year already?” Randy asked, even as he moved to his coffee table and flipped open a small basket-like box atop of it. He drew out a large ruby, easily the size of his thumb.
    Sherry gave a small whistle at the sight of it.
    Randy looked up at her. “I do believe this will be enough for Magpie for another year’s time?”
    Sherry gently accepted the ruby, looking at it closely. “Beautiful.” She raised her eyes to Randy’s. “Is it worth all this? Your fancy?”
    “The opportunity to find the other half of my soul? It’s worth all of it, and so much more.”
    “When will you come back?”
    “When I’ve found her.”
    She smiled, giving a quick bob of her head in acknowledgment. “Fair enough. Good luck, my friend. I’ll be around.”
    “I never doubted for an instant.” He put his fist above his heart and bowed slightly to her.
    With a laugh, she changed back to her bird-like appearance, the ruby clenched in her claws, and took off back up the chimney.

  28. ELI’S CHOICE
    619 words

    Eli didn’t bother people and in return, people didn’t bother him. The townsfolk just thought he founded the town and had lived there for ages. This was only part true. Henry Adams founded the town.

    Eli had his reasons for living alone. The main one being that anyone he ever cared for eventually died. Loneliness was a slightly better sensation than loss.

    The footprints were unsettling. Nobody should have been out in that artic tempest last night, let alone venturing over to his feeble shack. A small note was pinned to the door.

    MEETING. AT THE SPOT. MIDNIGHT.

    The footprints made sense now. They probably belonged to Luke. He preferred to trudge about in storms and darkness.

    It had been well over hundred years since the last summit. Eli was concerned about what the meeting might be about, but he was thankful that he didn’t have some lost vagabond frozen at his doorstep.

    Midnight came, and with a clear sky and a new moon. The stars and snow sparkled in harmony. In a small clearing in the forest, a few men sat by a campfire. Luke’s eyes glowed as red as the embers on the end of his cigar. Next to him was Mike, dressed in fatigues and sharpening a machete. Gabe, as usual, made a dramatic entrance minutes after midnight. The headlights on his jeep blinded the group, and he had the stereo blasting.

    “What’s up Gabe?” Eli asked.

    “It’s nice to see you too big fella. I’ll get right to it. The boss says you guys can come back to the ranch. He’s going to let Luke run things for a bit and then he’ll send in the cleanup crew. So start thinking about how you’d like to spend retirement.”

    “You’re joking right?” Mike’s knuckles turned white on the knife’s handle. Settling down wasn’t in his composition. “I could think of millions of people who could still use my services.”

    “Don’t kill the messenger.” Gabe chuckled. He loved that catchphrase. Mike growled and threw his machete into a tree, burying it up to the handle.

    “About damn time.” Luke grunted. He extracted Mike’s blade from the tree. “Ya know Mikey, I could come up with a thing or two for ya if you wanted to stick around.”

    “Oh yeah, that reminds me,” said Gabe, “if you don’t want to come back, that’s fine, but you’ll have to remain here as a human.”

    “Guess I’m going fishing with the old man then. “ Mike said. “Sorry, Luke, no deal.”

    “Well, Eli, you coming or not?” Asked Gabe.

    It should have been a simple decision. Yet, Eli hesitated. He’d lived among humans for so long, always apart from them, never as a part of them. He had tended to their pain, but never felt it. He rejoiced in their love, but never received it. He looked at the faces of the other ancients, and they knew he had made his decision.

    The sun was rising as Eli strolled into the town diner. An elderly woman named Tina poured his coffee. She couldn’t help thinking there was something special about the weathered gentleman in the booth. His hair was white as the fresh snow, and his eyes were as deep and blue as an icy pond. He smiled at her, and she felt her cheeks grow warm.

    “You sure have a radiant smile.” Said Eli.

    Tina glowed. “Why thank you. You are such an angel. Here’s a menu, I’ll give you a few minutes to decide what you want.”

    Tina made her way back to the kitchen, feeling Eli’s eyes on her the whole way. Eli didn’t even bother to look at the menu. He knew exactly what he wanted.

  29. bluebutterfly87 says:

    MEMOIRS

    Memories…

    They were all he had left of the one he had once been in love with.

    And still was.

    But she had abandoned him.

    Left him alone in the dark without a trace of light to help guide him back.

    And he deserved it. He knew he did.

    He had not treated her kindly.

    He had been selfish, taking her idolizing love of him for granted. Even now as he sat by the fire watching a fresh sheet of snow cover up the trail, he dreaded these memories, shuddering as if the door had been left open to allow the draft of the cold winds inside.

    How he had taken her love for granted! How he wished she was still here!

    She had not been perfect, but he had demanded it still though he would never say it outright. It had been in the way he said things to her and acted when she refused to succumb. He had utterly disrespected and crushed the poor creature’s heart and yet she had still managed to find love for him, despite all he had suffered her. She had loved him when he didn’t deserve to be loved. She had been patient, kind-hearted and gentle. She had been so determined to stand by his side.

    Blinded.

    By love.

    She had not known he was such a monster.

    How could she when he had done everything in his power to conceal it?

    But this time he had gone too far.

    She had left and there would be no turning back.

    No second chances or reconciliations.

    No chances left to say “I’m sorry.” Or “Please find it in your heart to return.”

    No more I love yous or the feeling of the radiating warmth tingling throughout his entire being holding her had always brought him. No more caressing and running his fingers through her dark hair and the love he felt whenever he drank deeply of the encouragement he found in those warm, supportive eyes.

    No companion to talk to and share life’s greatest accomplishments and disappointments.

    Yesterday she had left him.

    He had become a hollow shell of himself.

    That day she had walked away during the middle of the cruel night’s storm.

    She had become dead to him, leaving behind only a set of footprints that amidst the heavily falling snow had
    still been there when he awoke the next morning.

    As he slept that night, that one image had never left the caverns of his mind. In his dreams he would open the door and like a canvas in the snow the set of footprints leading away down the trail would always be waiting for him.

    Calling to him.

    Always reminding him.

    Never to forget.

    He no longer felt he had the will to live.

    Not without her.

    Not with himself.

    The fire had died and he sought his coat.

    Perhaps this time when he walked out the door he would find her and finally be able to set his mind at ease.

    He would follow the footprints.

    Find Peace.

    Waiting for him.

    In the imperfect eye of this storm.

    520 words

  30. pattybarry62 says:

    He woke to the sound of the coffee maker dripping, or maybe it wasn’t the sound, maybe it was the distinctive smell of the Maxwell House brew – the brand his thirty-something hipster daughter once made fun of but now embraced, the same way she had, and did, his favorite Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

    He reached over to feel Catherine, and was surprised when his broad hand felt only smooth, cool sheets, not wrinkled or warmed by a night spent under a body. He swam up through the haze of sleep to reality, and felt the dull pain all over again.

    He’d thought about getting a dog to ease his loneliness. But he had no desire to walk about the neighborhood and exchange absurdities with the neighbors. When she’d first gone, he continued to go to their friends’ homes for cocktails and card games, for company and comfort, just as they’d done together for 20 years. But after a time other people’s company became a burden. Trying to explain a departure he hadn’t planned or understood himself was like slow torture, and when they stopped asking all he could feel was the questions that weren’t coming anymore. He pulled back into himself, stopped socializing, took to walking early in the morning, when nobody would see him.

    In a fit of fury at Catherine, he changed all the locks on the doors, so that when she recognized how good she’d had it and tried to come back, she wouldn’t be able to. He put away all the pictures of her, in a box in the attic. He took down the little pieces of décor she had insisted were perfect and replaced them with as near the opposite as he could find. But he didn’t change any of the big things – paint color, furniture.

    He was angry and bitter. His grown children – their grown children – were uncomfortable visiting, though they still did because they felt as abandoned as he did.

    And then, after a time, he grew resigned. And he realized that all his gestures of anger would never be seen or known by the one person they were intended to hurt. This left him feeling powerless, and sadder than before.

    He pulled his hand back onto his own chest, having relived his heartbreak again, for the – how many mornings? Somewhere around 750, he guessed.

    She’d given no clue, and left no note. Her things had been completely cleared out and he had received an email message from her late that night, telling him she needed to breathe. She loved him, but she couldn’t live like this anymore. He’d replied, of course. Over and over again he responded to the email, but she never wrote again, leaving him without even the satisfaction of knowing whether it had been another man, a secret lottery ticket, or a mental breakdown that had taken her away from him that Wednesday afternoon.

    He sat up in bed, swung his legs over the side of the huge sleigh bed she’d insisted was her dream bed only five years before, and which they’d spent nearly $4500 dollars to have made. She’d gotten her dream, but it hadn’t been enough. He shook his head only slightly. When you have the same thought over and over again, it loses its poetry.

    Moments later, hands around a hot mug, he stood, at the big front window, a man observing his property. Looking out at the new snow he wondered, as he always did and without intention, what she was doing now. Was she on an island somewhere, making her own coffee? Was she in a house just like this, living with someone new? Was she in a mental institution or a hospital ward? Would he ever know where she’d gone or why? Did he even care anymore?

    It was then that his mind registered what his eyes had seen immediately. Walking to the front door, he grew aggravated at the thought of finding a teenage prank – a rotten egg mural, a pile of dog crap, a stolen “For Sale” sign – on his front porch. What else could explain the footprints going away from his door? Already angry at the kids across the street, he flung open the front door and saw nothing on the porch. Puzzled, he swung his arm back to close the door, but a fluttering caught his eye. Taped to the door was an ivory envelop, his name written boldly on it in handwriting that was unmistakably Catherine’s.

  31. handyman43127 says:

    SNOW STEPS

    Yes death is painful, it rips it’s sharpened fangs into the flesh and tears the life from the body of its prey. I have witnessed this firsthand.

    Fifty years of love and companionship, Friends and lovers, two souls joined. I watched as the life drained from her once bright blue eyes, ones that had looked upon me with endless love for so long. Pail grey replaced her rosy red cheeks and the firm grip she had on my hand with hers, fell limp.

    Six months have passed since the day she left. Days are long and empty but the nights hold the true terror. The sting of the fangs tear at my heart relentlessly. She quietly and comfortably passed but I feel the pain of death without ceasing. Mine is slow.

    Each night in the few unbroken hours of sleep I relive her last moments. Leaving on a journey that she would have to take alone, I had always been there for her until then, but now she would have to find the way without me. Have I failed her is the question that consumes my mind?

    My eyes refuse to stay open any longer and at the third hour after midnight I finally lose my battle and sleep.

    Lying on my side I feel a warmth cover my once cold body. A gentle and tender touch now grasps my shoulder and a wave of joy rushes throughout my body. Turning towards the unseen hand I see my wife sitting on the side of the bed smiling at me. In our fifty years I had never felt such an over-whelming rush of love.

    “It’s time to wake up William” she said to me.

    Overcome by the experience I remained silent.

    “William you have always shown me the way, now it’s my turn to show you,” she said with a smile upon her lovely face. “Rise and get dressed, follow me.” I watched as she walked through the door and vanished.

    Quickly I dressed and opened the door to find a freshly fallen blanket of snow. In the snow was a lone set of foot prints that ended in a great white light. There she stood, in the light with her arms held out calling me.

    I pulled the door closed for the last time, placed my ball cap tightly on my head, gave it a slight tap on the top for good measure and walked into eternity.

    • JJElwood says:

      I love this story. We all face the prospect of losing our partner one day, and to be the one left behind must be devastating. I’m glad William’s pain finally ended in such a lovely way.

  32. 330 words (including the title)

    A SPEC

    “I’ve forgotten something…I need to get it…” Bare walls, a dead hearth filled with old ashes, sparse lifeless possessions… “There must be something…here…”

    Pain. Yes, that’s how it started. Sharp. Like never before. A fall. The hard floor – ice against the burning skin. Light. Visions. His late mother bending over him. Her cool palm on his flaming forehead.

    “Rise,” she says, “follow me.”
    “You’re dead,” he says.

    She smiles. He clasps her hand, and she pulls him up. She leads him to the door. He leans on it, but it would not give. She helps him, and they push it open.

    A gust of wind stops his breath, covers his face with a crisp cloth woven from myriads of snowflakes. His fever melts them, and they run along his cheeks like tasteless tears.

    “Follow me, son,” she says, “follow me.”

    So he does. He keeps moving his feet, eyes fixed on the dim silhouette in front of him. The wind is lashing, and the night is closing in.

    “Wait,” he calls, “I’ve forgotten something, I need to get back…”

    He sees her turn around and nod slightly before darkness consumes everything.

    “I’ve forgotten something…what is it? Where is it?” Bare walls, a dead hearth…

    He feels her presence. She is standing beside him.

    “There is nothing for you here but empty days and burned memories,” she says, “Follow me.”

    He grins like a schoolboy as he slowly rises above the dirty floor, feet dangling in the air. Happily. Effortlessly. She leads the way smiling at him over her shoulder. Up to the ceiling and through the roof they go. He laughs out loud. Higher. Faster. Stronger.

    If he cared to glance down, he would see a set of footprints leading away from his house, and a tiny figure lying motionlessly where the footprints stopped. Even if he did look, he would not think much of it all: just a few specs on the freshly fallen snow.

  33. bhunt34 says:

    Lescroix had found me.
    I stared at the lone set of footprints stamped into the snow, trailing away from the cabin. Someone had been at my house during the night, and left after the blizzard had dumped fifteen inches of snow. I’d spent my life studying evidence like this, from mountains in Bosnia to sand dunes in the Middle East. Footprints were as good as fingerprints, my CO used to say.
    The person who made the tracks wore a size eleven boot (which meant they were anywhere from 5’11” to 6’1” tall) that was a Columbia brand, based on the sole’s imprint. His stride was about three feet long and he dragged his right leg across the top of the snow before setting it down. Lescroix could thank me for that injury.
    All of my training told me to focus on the most important question. And that wasn’t how Lescroix had found me (I might never learn that); now that he was here, what was I going to do?
    He wasn’t foolish. He knew I’d find the tracks and make these assumptions. It was a game we’d played with each other over the years. Boxers in a ring. Punch, feint, counterpunch.
    What the hell, I decided. I’ll follow the footprints.
    I put on two layers of clothing under my jacket and pants. In my right pocket was my Glock. In my left was my keychain. If there were any place this should end, I figured, why not here?
    I left a note for Henrietta, my housekeeper, who would arrive tomorrow. I’m sure Lescroix knew that. If I was not back by the time she found the note, she should take my dog Ajax and notify the police. There was a jump drive in my office with information that explained everything.
    A cold wind cut the morning air. I paralleled the tracks heading due east down the driveway. When I found this cabin last summer, the son of the elderly owners had shown me around the place.
    “Best part about this?” he’d said as we walked up to the house. “There’s no one else around for miles.”
    The sun crested over Pine Ridge and even with sunglasses I had to squint against the glare. I watched the short brown grass and barren oak trees for any sign of movement. Even the animals were still hunkered down from the storm.
    Twenty yards ahead, the footprints veered off the road and into the field. Thirty feet from there, the snow had been disturbed in a small circle.
    A cache.
    Now, leading back to the house in long strides, were the imprints of snowshoes.
    Perfect.
    I took my time walking back to the house. Once inside, I stomped snow off my boots and fumbled in the left pocket of my jacket while hanging it up. Ajax wasn’t there to greet me as usual. Footsteps creaked on the hardwood floor behind me.
    “Nice day to die, isn’t it, Lescroix?”
    I turned and saw the face of the shadow I’d tracked for fifteen years. His cheeks were pockmarked and his nose curved slightly to the right. In one hand he held a pistol.
    “Is this it?” he said in French. He dangled the jump drive he’d stolen from my office.
    “That’s it. Though you’ll never unscramble it.”
    “This place was hard to find,” he said. “You really went out of your way this time to evade me.”
    I shrugged. Or to draw you in, I thought but didn’t say.
    “So far from anywhere, it will be days before they find you. And by then, well…”
    “What about Henrietta?”
    “I called her and told her she wouldn’t be needed tomorrow.”
    “Of course,” I said. Lescroix always opted to make me suffer. “Well, where do you want to tie me up?”
    He looked around the room. “Here. By the window. So you can see me escape one final time.”
    I waited patiently in the chair as he tied the nylon rope around my hands and feet. Satisfied, he stood and brushed his hands.
    “So. It is finished.”
    “It is finished,” I repeated in French.
    Lescroix left without saying anything more. He walked down the driveway, careful to step in the same tracks he’d made last night. A hundred yards from the house, he stopped and looked back at me. He smiled.
    I shook loose the small keychain transceiver hidden between my fingers. I found the third programmed button and pressed it.
    Out on the driveway, a cloud of orange flame exploded and Lescroix slumped to the ground. The noise was so loud that Ajax barked from the basement.
    It is finished.

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