Footsteps in the Snow
By Brian Lawrence (1999)
Sandy Harper peered through the parted slats of the shade covering her living room window. Nope, the sound she'd heard was not her husband returning from work. Good.
Where the sidewalk would have been visible, had it not been covered with eight inches of snow, a solitary footprint pointed toward her house. Couldn't be a footprint. The snow around it was undisturbed. Must be an anomaly, a freak caving in of the snow to form a familiar pattern.
She released the slats and settled on the sofa. She grabbed her Jackie Collins novel and stared at the words. Her mind wandered. She cursed the snow. Her first night of freedom and she was stuck at home.
She glanced at her watch. Six forty-five. David should have been home an hour ago.
From outside came a noise, like someone loudly chewing crackers. She twisted on the sofa and pried open the slats.
No one there. Her gaze wandered to the footprint. But now there were two, a pace apart, both pointed toward her house.
Maybe her water pipes had ruptured.
She pushed off the sofa. As she passed the front door on her way to the stairs, frigid air brushed her bare feet. She shivered and hurried upstairs. In her bedroom, she peered out the window.
From above, the impressions in the snow definitely looked like footprints. And now there were three.
And in the middle of each was a dark stain.
She turned away from the window and sat on the bed. Chewing on a knuckle, and again cursed the snow. She wanted out, but knew St. Louis would be shut down, the streets not yet plowed. No where to go.
Eight inches in eight hours, then it had stopped as suddenly as it had started. That morning, when she'd secretly followed David to work, the sky had been cloudy, but snow-less. After he'd gone inside his A-Frame office building, the first flakes had started to float down. She'd thought a little snow would help her plan, but by the time she'd snipped the brake line in David's car, the snow was falling heavily, and when she pulled into her garage, nearly an inch had already coated the driveway.
There was that noise again, someone taking a huge bite out of a cracker. Shivers danced up her arms.
She looked out the window.
Evenly spaced, the four footprints formed a straight line toward her living room window, all with a dark stain in the middle.
"What is going on?"
A car turned into the court. She held her breath as it passed first one house, then a second. All sound was drowned by her heartbeat. She bit hard on her knuckle.
The car turned into the next door neighbor's driveway.
She dropped her hand, closed her eyes, and exhaled deeply. She opened her eyes.
The footprints were now halfway across her lawn. The first tickle of fear nipped at her. She studied the prints. But from the second story window, even with the full moon and the street lamp in the center aisle of the court, she could make out little detail. Definitely shaped like footprints, though.
She rushed out of the room, then down the stairs, taking two at a time. At the front door, she checked the deadbolt, then turned and locked the door leading to the garage as well. It wasn't like she'd be locking out David. No, he was probably wrapped around a tree at the bottom of the hill.
Stupid architects. They designed a beautiful A-frame building, high on a Missouri limestone cliff overlooking the river. Great location, impressed the clients. As long as the brakes worked.
She imagined David's terror as he pumped frantically, his car sliding out of control on the steep snow-covered road. She envisioned the moment of impact, even heard the crunch as his Corvette spilt in two around a large oak.
Wait a minute. That crunch was real.
She dashed to the sofa, leaned over, and looked out the living room window. She counted. One, two, three, four, five...
"What's going on?"
Was she dreaming? Had she fallen asleep on the sofa while reading? She pulled her hair.
This wasn't fair. The sniveling, clinging, possessive, jealous, boring David finally out of her life and now this. Snow and footprints from nowhere.
She grabbed the pull-string for the blinds and yanked them open.
Three strides from the window. Then what? Footprints in the house?
She kneeled on the sofa and stared at the snow. She wanted to see one form.
What was that black stuff in the middle?
She glanced at the front door. Should she go outside and examine them?
"Come on. Do it now. While I'm watching!"
The furnace kicked on. She smelled warm dust as heat wafted between her and the window.
A sneeze threatened, but she resisted. Hadn't she read somewhere that it was impossible to keep one's eyes open when one sneezed? Couldn't sneeze. Couldn't look away.
She pounded the wall beside the window.
One more step and they'd run out of yard.
Minutes passed. Her dry eyes protested, begging to blink. More minutes passed. Nothing happened.
"Come on, damn you."
She thought of David, of his cheap English Leather cologne, his ten-year old ties, her six-year old Ford Escort, while he drove a Corvette. An older Corvette, but still a 'Vette. Would she miss him? Maybe. He had his good points, like a five-hundred thousand dollar life insurance policy. She wanted to live life, not be some stiff-necked architect's wife. She wanted to go out. He wanted to stay in, snuggle, watch the fire, read a book. She wanted to party. No problem, right? He could stay home and she could go out. Oh, no. That won't do. Little jealous David couldn't let his beautiful blonde wife out alone at night. Someone might hit on her. You bet. And she'd enjoy it.
The phone rang.
She looked over her shoulder, cursed, then turned back.
The last right under her window, the toe lost to her vision. But all that happened was the phone kept ringing.
She smiled. Probably the sheriff's office calling to tell her they'd found her husband. Poor David. Frozen solid. Like he hadn't been stiff before.
The phone rang and rang.
She glared in the direction of the kitchen. "all right, I'm coming."
Silence fell over the house.
A tingle shot up her spine. The hairs on the back of her neck straightened.
Slowly, she turned and looked down at the snow beneath her window.
Side by side, an eleventh footprint had joined the tenth. She blinked.
Nothing. She stared at the snow. What was that dark stuff? She looked out at the street, then rubbed her eyes because everything seemed a little out of focus.
"This is ridiculous," she said.
The window exploded inward. Shards of glass sprayed her face, her arms, her neck.
She screamed and backed away, but something grabbed both her shoulders and held her motionless. She tried to jerk loose from the grip on her, but instead found herself being pulled slowly toward the window. Her legs lifted until she was parallel with the floor, her entire body suspended in the air. She tried to scream, but the frigid air caught her breath.
Her forward motion stopped. She scanned the neighborhood for help. The snow on her lawn shimmered and danced, but there was no one out there.
She glanced down and whimpered. One triangular piece of glass remained in the window, the point now just below her throat. She thrust her arms out and clawed at the window frame, trying push herself back. Her fingernails bent and broke, leaving trails of blood along the window frame.
Her strength faded and she stopped struggling. Great puffs of breath billowed around her head, which hung outside the window. Her hair hung over her face, her sinuses dried from the cold. She sniffed hard and smelled something oily mixed with something familiar. Sweet, yet musky, like a horse saddle.
In answer she was plunged downward.
Around eight-thirty, Benjamin Carston muttered as he trudged through the snow, the end of Creampuff's leash held tightly in his gloved hand. What a stupid name for a Malamute, he thought for at least the thousandth time since his wife had bought the mutt. What a stupid dog, to want to go out in this snow.
They followed what Benjamin hoped was the sidewalk. He kept his head down. His hood protected him from the fierce wind. Creampuff seemed not to notice the biting cold. Nor did his wife, who was watching TV in the warm house.
During the entire walk, the dog had kept the leash taut, but now, the leash went limp. Benjamin peeked out from under his hood.
Creampuff was sniffing a footprint. When Benjamin got closer he noticed black goo inside the print. He let his gaze follow the trail to the Harper's house.
"Oh my Lord."
Mrs. Harper stared out of her broken living room window. Her eyes bulged, and her mouth was frozen wide open. Benjamin looked closer and gasped. A triangular piece of glass skewered Mrs. Harper under her chin. Two pools of blood had formed below her in the snow, both shaped like a footprint.
Creampuff barked and strained on the leash.
Benjamin, retaining a firm hold, squatted and examined the footstep closest to them. With his teeth, he removed a glove, then dipped his finger in the dark goo.
One smell and thirty-five years of being an auto mechanic told him the stuff in the footprint was brake fluid.