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Footprints in the Snow

by Teresa Richards

Walter shuffled down the darkened hallway of the house he’d shared with his beloved wife of fifty-seven years. Tomorrow would mark the first anniversary of her passing.

He locked the doors for the night, kissed his wife’s picture, and then headed to bed. He mentally ticked through his evening checklist: false teeth out, hearing aids off, and slippers tucked neatly under the bed. He doused the lights right on time. By 8:45 pm, he was lost to sleep.

* * *

At a pub down the road, the night had just begun. Several heads swiveled toward the door when Angus stomped in, his mouth twisted in an angry sneer. Since this was nothing new, they turned right back to the flat-screen, where a busty, suntanned newswoman was predicting an inch or so of overnight snowfall. The first of the season.

Angus stalked over to the bar, stumbling on his way. He caught himself, cursing loudly, and dropped into a barstool. His eyes were glassy and rimmed in red.

Jimmy stood behind the counter, exuding an air of authority despite his five-foot-six frame. He crossed his arms over his broad chest and said, “Well? What’ll it be?”

Angus scowled.

Jimmy poured a whiskey and slid it across the bar. He’d known Angus for a long time, but that didn’t mean he liked the man. Angus was his best customer, so he put up with him — one couldn’t be choosy in a town as small as theirs — but that was the extent of his hospitality.

Angus brought the glass to his lips and downed it in a single gulp. “Another,” he croaked.

Jimmy studied the man in front of him as he poured. Angus’ tiny eyes were black, glimmering with menace and swimming in alcohol. Jimmy knew the woman who lived with him, or he knew of her, at least. She frequented the laundrdomat across the street. He didn’t know her story but he was certain she didn’t deserve whatever Angus had planned for her tonight. Jimmy vowed to call the cops and send them to Angus’ house once he left the bar.

When Angus demanded his fourth whiskey, Jimmy shook his head, planting his meaty fingers firmly on the bar in front of him.

Angus’s expression stayed blank for a single heartbeat-until he realized he was being cut off. His eyes focused and became murderous. “Jimmy,” he slurred, his tone low but simmering with an undercurrent of menace, “where’s my drink?”

“No more, Angus. It’s time for you to leave.”

Angus stood. “Not ‘till I get my drink!” he yelled, his body shaking. His voice cut through the noise of the bar like a gunshot. An uneasy silence settled.

In answer, Jimmy cocked his head toward the exit where his hired help stood, eagerly flexing his muscles. When Angus didn’t move, Jimmy added, “Out!”

Angus blinked, swayed, then swirled around and stalked toward the door. He picked up a drink off someone’s table and downed it. The owner of the drink protested, and Angus raised the empty glass and slammed it into the side of the man’s head with a sickening thud.

Glass shattered and blood ran. The man toppled to the ground and Angus stumbled out the door.

* * *

Moments later, a siren whooped as an ambulance left the hospital. Another whoop marked a cop car leaving the station. Angus didn’t hear either one. He arrived at his darkened home as the first snowflakes began to fall. He tried the doorknob but found it locked. This made him angry. He noticed a flowerpot he’d never seen before sitting on the top step. This made him angrier. He kicked it into the bushes.

“Woman!” he shouted, banging on the front door. “Woman! I know you’re in there!”

He pounded angrily as the snow gathered strength and tumbled down around him. Wispy flakes turned to big, fat ones, and still his fists hit the door. Over and over again. “Open up, Woman!”

He pummeled until his hands throbbed. Until his arms ached. Until the snow stopped, even, but the house remained silent and dark. His head swirled with alcohol and he stumbled. He caught himself against the doorframe and stood, breathing hard and waiting for the world to stop spinning. He flexed his swollen fingers and noticed dried blood on his right hand.

Angus shivered and glanced at the door again. His eyes caught on something he hadn’t seen before: a mail slot near the bottom of the door.

He didn’t have a mail slot.

Angus stumbled back as his muddled thoughts came together. The locked door. The flower pot. The mail slot. This was not his house.

He cursed and spun around, getting his bearings. He was at his neighbors’ house-the old guy who’d lived alone since his wife died and couldn’t hear worth anything. Angus stomped away, heading home for real this time and leaving a single set of footprints in the freshly fallen snow.

He didn’t notice the darkened police car parked in his driveway until it was too late. Two officers emerged, cutting him off as he headed up the walkway to his house. “Mr. Curdy, you’re under arrest. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law...”

The police handcuffed him. The lights on top of the car began flashing. Angus noticed his bedroom curtain moving and knew his fiancée was watching from inside. Stupid wench, he thought. She never appreciated me.

Angus was loaded into the cop car. The man at the bar had died; his neck had snapped when he hit the ground. And Angus had been the cause of the fall. The charge was manslaughter, a “heat of passion” killing.

* * *

When Walter woke with the sun’s first rays, it took him a moment to remember what day it was. Exactly one year ago, his wife had slipped peacefully from this world into another and he’d missed her every day since. He’d been hoping to dream of her last night, but his rest had been deep and dreamless.

He rose slowly, his body aching inside and out. He pressed an arthritic hand to his lower back as he stood, but he couldn’t do anything about his throbbing heart. He put in his teeth and hearing aids, stepped into his slippers, and shuffled to the kitchen for breakfast.

Walter turned on the news. Reporters on the local channel buzzed with talk of the season’s first beautiful snow. It had only been an inch. But temperatures had dropped significantly overnight, meaning this morning, the snow was preserved under a delicate layer of ice. Not great for the morning commute, they said. But worth a look, and maybe some pictures if you had a professional-quality camera.

Walter shuffled over to the window. His wife had always loved the first snowfall of the season-often insisting they bundle up and go for midnight walks. Night was the only time you could fully appreciate the peace of gently-falling snow, she’d said.

Walter pulled aside the curtains and gasped. A single set of footprints led away from his house, perfectly preserved in an inch of ice-encrusted snow.

His breath caught in his throat. He stood still, frozen in place as his mind worked. Tears gathered in the corners of his eyes and a slow smile spread across his face.

Amelia had come to visit after all.

He swung the door open, shivering as cold air wafted in. He kissed his fingers and held them up to the sky. “I miss you too, Amelia. I miss you, too.”

Copyright © 2014 by Teresa Richards

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