Wednesday, April 27, 2011

FICTION: Answers in Snow by Ollie McLean

The temperature is steadily dropping as I drive north. I have to get to my mom in Ontario. She’s in the hospital, they say its cancer and she’s not going to last long.

Dammit, this is the third time, is it cancer or not?

Highway 195 stretches across my windshield; a constant reminder of how much road is between Chicago and Ontario. I feel bad about leaving Cate with the girls for so long, but they’re old enough now she should be okay. Or maybe they’re old enough now we should be watching them closer. I push the thought into the back of my mind. That’s what I’ve been doing lately. Thinking about Cate and the girls makes my heart ache. I forcefully change my thoughts to work, wishing I could be back at the factory. The road to my dying mother stretches ahead of me. The guys at work don’t nag, and Jane is at work.

I’ve got to stop soon, get some coffee or something or else I’m going to fall asleep. There is a town in the next fifty-miles, I’m certain. Did I pass that town already? I’m so tired. The man on the radio has just announced record low temperatures for November. Tonight is going to drop to three degrees, the coldest this week.

I drive by expansive farmland on either side for hours. Flat wheat fields, empty for the winter, stretch into barely blurs either side of me, frosted in soft snow. I think of the girls eating Frosted Mini Wheats at the breakfast table.

Clumps of green grass spot the road banks. The sun winks at me through the trees until slipping under the horizon. I roll down the windows of the truck and inhale deeply. The smell of trees and woods reminds me of Cate. I look at the passenger seat and wish I could reach over and stroke her black hair. How she was, before the kids, before my job, so many years ago.

I finally pull into Elkton around 10:45, a one-shop town somewhere north of Winnipeg. The seemingly only gas station is a dilapidated 50’s style gas station and diner with one working gas pump. The rounded metal of the diner reflects my pale skin. I watch the reflection of my khaki shirt float across the parking lot.

Something about this place gives me the creeps, but I can’t put my finger on it.

I look around at the dump as I push through a swinging door into the little gas station. Dust is covering most of the surfaces in the store. The door violently creaks as I step through, an apparent cue for the red haired teenager to look up from his phone and smirk. His nametag says Arnold.

How you doing?

I’m doing well, sir, how are you? Pretty bad night to be out driving, especially up here.

He’s nicer than I thought. His red hair is wild and untamed, strawberry curls forming a crown around his freckled face. His ice blue eyes are incredibly vibrant, pools of water in the desert of his face.

Yeah, pretty nasty. Just trying to get through it but I’m chilled to the bone. Is the coffee fresh?

Honestly, I’ll brew you some fresh. It’s been out here since about six, sir. We don’t get too many passers through.

He jogs to the drink station and starts fumbling with the coffee pots. He keeps looking at me out of the corner of his eyes, flashing that blue my direction. I find myself watching his hands. He is taking his damn time.

Thanks, son, I appreciate it.

This seems to startle him as if he forgot I was there; he jumps and drops a filter full of ground coffee onto the floor. The grounds quickly washed over the tile.

Shit. Sorry, sir, I’ll get that.

I feel slightly embarrassed for the kid, but why so jumpy? I lean against the drink counter trying to look casual while Arnold dashes around the store. First he tries to clumsily scrape the scattered coffee grounds into a trashcan, using the discarded coffee filter. His shaking hand causes the grounds spread further onto the tile, under the aisles of candy, and clinging to Arnold’s leg, causing him to become more frustrated. The grounds mix into the dust under the coffee station and around my feet. It looks like the ground is covered in gray mold.

I’m sorry, sir, it wasn’t supposed to look like this.

His blue eyes are saucers in his pink face. A look of terror captivates his face, as though he said too much.


The store was supposed to be clean, nothing like this. Everything is messed up now.

Uh, it looks fine. I just came in for coffee, is it ready?

I glance at the coffee machine and notice that the pot is still empty. I think of how impatient Cate would be right now, tapping her foot with anxiety. Once again, I force Cate out of my thoughts.

Shit. Forgot to plug it in. Sorry, sir. Crap. Everything was supposed to be perfect.

Kid, what the hell are you talking about? I just want to get some coffee and get back on the road.

Arnold looks like he’s about to cry. He walks over to the drink station and crouches down to the plug. He turns only his head and stares up into my face trying to say something without words, but I have no idea what is going on. He stands and his eyes dart to the back corner of the store as though he sees something. He dashes down the candy aisle land disappears behind the door. I hear muffled arguing and uneasiness creeps up my back. Glancing at the coffee pot, halfway empty still, I quickly drain the contents into a cup, grab some creamer and start to walk out of the store. Passing the counter, I drop leave two dollars and shove open the creaky door.

The blast of cold winter air helps clear my head slightly as I walk up to my old GMC pick-up. I’m trying to shake off the strange feeling my interaction with Arnold has given me as I pull open my truck door and turn the key. My truck has been acting up lately, refusing to start, but she’s over twenty now. An antique.

Come on, baby, start for me.

The engine kicked a few times but didn’t turn over. I smell transmission fluid and the steering wheel won’t turn.

Not here, please. I’ll do anything, I swear, just one more town.

With a few more tries the engine rumbles to life and I flip on the heater and the radio. The melodious sound of Hey Jude fills the cab. The happy tunes feel foreign and loud hitting my ears, but I welcome the comforting familiarity.

Thank you, Jesus.

I back out of my parking spot and I’m driving past the gas pumps when I think I hear shouting. I turn down my radio.

Hey, Phil, wait.

Who’s calling my name? I look in my rearview and see Arnold running to the truck.

You forgot your change, sir.

He reaches his fist into my window and drops a quarter onto my lap. Without making eye contact he turns to run inside, revealing a fresh cut on the side of his swollen eye. I’m not completely sure what I should do. I do not want my truck to stall so I mash the gas pedal.

How did he know my name?

Completely bewildered, I fumble with my cell phone, considering calling the police. I think of what I would say to them, and how ridiculous I would sound. Sure, some kid as a gas station is stalking a forty-two year old man in a broken down pickup. Instead, I decide to call my sister to check my mom’s status. My voice is shaking when she picks up. She doesn’t sound much better.

Hey, Phil.

Hey Susie. How is she?

Not good, the doctors said you should hurry. I don’t think she knows we’re here. Where are you?

I went through Belleview more than an hour ago. I should be making headway.

Dammit, Phil.

I stare at the screen for a moment, the picture of my sisters smiling face illuminated in the night. Her condescending nature is not lost in the thumbnail picture, her head tilted slightly, relaxed, a beaming white smile. I press the end button and watch the screen fade to black. I toss the cell phone onto the passenger seat. I burry my sister’s bitchy smile and even my destination under easy thoughts of the stars.

The Beatles help my nerves steady and soon I’ve pushed the thoughts of my sister and sickly mom to the back of my head. Into that part of my brain with my failing truck and Jane I’ve mastered turning off.

Jane’s hair smells like summer rain showers and Shea butter. I touch the back of my neck, searching my collar, and I find one wrapped in the buttonhole on my lapel. I intertwine it in my fingers, pulling it taught against my knuckles. I turn on the dome light and inspect the red hair, thin and vibrant against my worn knuckles.

What does a kid like that see in an old man like me?

The soft skin of her ribcage flashes through my mind. A pale ocean of orange freckles lapping at her bra and panties. I turn off the light, welcoming the darkness as though it hides the guilt from myself.

In a moment of weakness, I think of Cate at home. Handicapped under the burden of third-trimester pregnancy, she would be on the couch waiting for Allison to call from her friend’s house. I know better than to believe she is at a friend’s house. Cate was often gullible.

I think of the last conversation we had as I was leaving.

When you get home we will tell the girls, okay?

Dammit, Cate, I’ve got enough on my plate right now. Can’t you just tell them?

Of course that’s not a surprise. Its not like you were ever really thinking of them, were you?

Then she turned around and waddled back through the front door of our house. I remember feeling worried as she teetered up the front five stairs. She slammed the door with such force she knocked the number five off the door.

I reach into my pocket and pull out the number five. Momentarily I rub my thumb in on the warm plastic, but soon my throat catches and my nose tingles. I roll down my window and fling our house number into the falling snow. Immediately it disappears into black.

Something inside my truck is squealing, waking me from a trance. I glance at the clock and 2:17 blares on the dashboard. I wonder how long I’ve tuned out the noise. The old girl makes noises often, so I’m sure it can make it to the next town. Signs warn me of a sharp turn in the road ahead, but hitting my brakes I find no resistance. I press the brake hard into the floor, but only feel grinding metal under my foot. The snow is slanting into my windshield as I cut my steering wheel left, but continue forward at forty miles an hour.

My truck lifts on two wheels, as it slams sideways into a wall of compacted snow. My passenger window shatters. The glass sprays into my face. A strand slices my ear open and wedges glass shards into my neck.

First, just the hissing of the radiator could be heard. Shaking, I unbuckle my seatbelt and put a hand on the door handle.

An outside light fills the cab, unnatural illumination spilling over my dashboard. The cup of old coffee flashes suddenly, and Arnold’s face flashes into my head. Looking out my window, I see a semi truck hurtling towards the turn. He is honking his horn like a maniac, losing control on the same patch of black ice I had. I fight to open my truck door. The next moment there is a deafening roar of crunching metal and I am cheek down on the asphalt.

The air is silent, a pregnant pause. I inhale and smell gasoline and blood. I drag myself to a sitting position and look behind me. Where my truck had been is a mangled pile resembling a semi-cab. I wobble to my feet and begin making my way towards the accident, but I am have gone less than thirty feet when the wreck erupts into flames with an explosion that knocks me down. The snow banks melt around the inferno and pools of gasoline are exploding on the ground as I scream helplessly. I drop to my knees, involuntarily welcoming the heat from burning wreck.

Hello, is anyone around? Hello? Are you hurt?

I stare at the fire, mesmerized, horrified. I strain to look up the barren street into blackness. The flames illuminate a circle into the woods surrounding the road. The trees stare at me, laughing at my solitude. I check my pockets, finding them empty. Panicking, I sprint up the road from where I came, trying to remember when I had passed a town.

dammit, Phil. Pay more attention.

I stop and double over. I vomit onto the steaming asphalt, my breath coming in raspy gasps. Turning around, I stare into the flames of the distant accident.

What happened? Did my brakes fail? Hello, can anyone hear me?

Blood surges in my ears. I touch my eyebrow to find my head soaked with blood. My shirt, a khaki tourist number with buttons, is torn and stained from the accident. Already I am freezing, standing in the middle of the road, alone.

I know I have to get my blood flowing to keep my warm. I start walking away from the accident in the direction I was traveling. At least this way seemed more popular.

Away from the light of the blazing cab fire is complete black. The horizon is where two shades of gray meet; I keep my eyes glued to the snowy hills rising like ghosts in the distance.

I manage to wrestle the thoughts of hypothermia and of being stranded out of my consciousness. What matters now is my own survival. The faces of my twins swirl in my mind, their pale red hair like wheat fields.

Red hair. All my girls have red hair. Except for Cate. I think of her jade eyes under her jet-black hair. I hope the baby has red hair.

Do you want me to dye it to match her? Is that it? You have a thing for red heads? Or am I just too old and too fat for you now, after raising your twins and getting pregnant now? Again?

Cate, you’re beautiful. Please. I’m sorry. Nothing happened, I swear.

Sure, Phil, that’s why you called her your firecracker. Nothing happened, that’s why you all have texted back and forth over two thousand times.

I’ll never talk to her again.

It doesn’t matter. The damage is done. You’re having a son, Phil. It’s a boy.

It’s a boy.

On the black road I forget I am not reenacting this conversation, merely thinking it. I unclench my frozen fists, attempting to shake away the fleeting feeling of insanity.

I’ve been walking for at least an hour, but the sky is still thoroughly black. My toes are numb, and my heels are bleeding. The constant crunch of rocks under my sneakers is the only sound I hear other than whistling wind. My mind is dizzy from loss of blood. I’m sure I’ve got a concussion. The lines of the road are crossing in my sight. I have to stop and gasp for frigid air often. The cold has claimed my face and chest. My nose runs freely down my face, collecting ice and freezing in chunks on my chin. The stinging on my cheeks has been replaced by a numb, animated feeling like worms are crawling in my skin.

The wind is mocking me, carrying on it the sound of my daughter’s laughter and the smell of Jane’s laundry detergent. The road heckles me with each turn, however I have stopped anticipating human life. I am alone out here.

I see a light in the middle of an empty field to my right. Blinking the stinging tears out of my eyes, I stare at the taunting light. It is so far away, an unreal blessing floating on powdery snow. Turning left, I gaze at the blackness into which I’m walking. Without a thought of much, I plunge into the snowfield, burying my legs and waist in snow. The powder is resistant and I have to force my legs through with each step. My exposed arms shake with an agonizing cold.

I fall in the field and snow swallows me. Inside is cold and soft. Welcoming for sleep. I curl into a ball and begin to dream.

I am at home in my bed, warm and content. But my dog is licking my face, needing to be taken out. And my alarm is sounding. And the twins are jumping on the foot of the bed. They are still children, not pierced hellions.

Daddy, daddy wake up!

Ashley, I’m tired. I worked all day yesterday so I could sleep today. Go away, find your mother.

Daddy, daddy wake up!

She’s tugging on my sleeve, pulling me out of bed. I’m resistant.

I open my eyes. I am surrounded by white and think I am blind. I look down and see my hands, the tips of my fingers beginning to purple and bleed from the cold.

Daddy! Hurry up.

I yank myself upright, still sitting in the snow. I jerk my head around, searching for a person, for any source of noise. I only see soft, haunting snow.


The wind whispers a response at me. A light blinks in my peripheral. I turn and make out the shadow of a house in the distance, an orange light glowing from the front. I desperately look around again for my daughter then begin stumbling through snow.

My pants are filled with water from the snow, weighing me down. My arms and hands are bloody. With each hurtle I leave a dirty trail, evidence of where I have been. Visions of being hunted by a lioness jar my mind.

My eyes stay on the tips of my fingers. I watch as my body digs mechanically into a new pile of undisturbed snow, heaving along my dead weight.

Phil, do you need help?

Cate is standing in front of me, a hand on her bulging stomach. I stop climbing. I watch her stand with ease on the top of the powdered snow, not sinking through. My face is inches from her swollen feet and I can smell the ginger lotion on her legs.

You let us down, Phil.

I know, Cate. I’m sorry.

I need you here, at home. Your children miss you. Why did you choose her over us?

I never did! Please, help me.

You did. You killed our family.

She stares down into my eyes. Her black hair invisible against the empty Canadian night sky, her face a floating entity, her eyes an emotion. She is pointing, pointing towards a hill in the snow feet from us. A piercing cry shoots through the air, the gasping frantic scream of a newborn. I look and see nothing. I see flat snow leading to a mound. I look back to Cate who is now small, no longer swollen and round. She is staring down at me with over her flat stomach. Her dress is blowing around her legs, and her midnight is hair sticking to her lips. She is a witch of the night, her outstretched arm marking her curse, her hand like a lightning strike. Her fingers are curved and dead, mesmerizing. My son’s cries grip my soul, lurching my stomach, filling my legs with life.

I frantically swim through the snow towards the sound, but the closer I become the more muffled are his cries. My arms and legs are responding slower by the second, but I manage to reach the icy hill.

I can hear the baby screaming now, choking on its tears, choking on the ice. I press my face into the frozen ground; I can almost see him under the layers of frost, a blur buried deep amongst the ice. Dirt and ice grit against my teeth and I feel my front tooth crack. My lips shred against the razor edge of my broken tooth as I scream into the ground, desperately into nothing. He needs me, I can hear it in his cries. I’m clawing and scratching helplessly at the snow. The top layer is coming off easily, but the ice underneath is rigid and bitter and my skin grates against it. The tips of my fingers slice against the rigid ice hopelessly. My blood is smearing on the unforgiving ground, a violent, surreal contrast against the encompassing gray.

I lay my forehead against the ice, staring into frozen ground. I turn to scream at Cate, to ask her why, but she is not delicately standing on the snow. There is nobody and I am alone completely. The decent of the night is suffocating me. If I’m screaming my voice is whisked away by the wind and if I’m crying my tears are frozen to my eyes. The only evidence I am alive is the steady trickle of blood onto the dirty snow.

The house with the porch light is only yards away now. The sky is violet near the snow and my veins are coursing with malice.

How could she do that to me?

Jane’s full lips brush my neck. I spin, yearning for her embrace. The wind carries a naughty giggle whipping my ear as I stare at innocent snow flurries. Standing between reality and insanity, I suck the blood from my broken lips, embracing the taste of life.

The door is unlocked. From the porch I can see it is a dilapidated farmhouse, built when lanterns adorned railings. There is no orange light. The door sticks and my frost-chewed fingers are unable to fully grasp and turn the doorknob, aching against the rusted metal. I try to kick the door but pain shoots up my shins from my destroyed toes. I fall to dusty planks, laying on my elbows and knees waiting for the pain to subside. The door creeks open next to me. The eerie sound rubs against my throat, almost gagging me. The open doorway exposes a dusty hallway. Steadying myself on the doorframe, I stand and limp inside.

A layer of grime coats every surface, undisturbed. The dust gives everything a gray color, reminiscent of the glazing snow outside. Regardless of a lack of heat I am deeply warmed once completely in the door, the warmth of stale air brings water to my eyes and my fingertips are searing.

The house is wooden, from the railing of a twenty-set staircase to the elegant china cabinet in the foyer. Everything is made from wood. An enormous oak table squats in the dining room, a radiant yellow mountain in the dark. The gigantic table draws me into the room, while the elk antler chandelier looming overhead holds me in place. I collapse onto the table, a grand hand-carved piece with matching thick-legged poster chairs. My skull makes a loud thud when connecting with the oak, a welcomed noise followed by an aching headache reminding me I am still alive.

The antler chandelier, covered in candle wax and layers of dust, is an extensive piece of artwork. The warmth causes my eyelids to droop as I think of hunting trips my father took me on as a boy.

I’m ready, pop. Can’t I shoot, please?

dammit, fine Phillip. I don’t think you can handle this. Shooting is different than watching it done.

It’s okay, Pop, I can do it.

I shot a doe that day. I watched her suffer from a poor shot to the stomach for an hour. My dad made me follow her. He went home.

Did you find her?

Yeah, dad. I found her.

Did you get her antlers?

I didn’t understand what he meant until now. Cruel bastard.

Phillip, did you get her antlers?

I crack open my eyes. Color floods my vision and I am disoriented, as if there was ever an orientation.


I sit up and realize I am on the huge oak table of the farmhouse, the knots of carved wood biting into my lower back. The wooden walls are dreary brown as the morning sun pours through dust caked windowpanes throughout the open first floor. Outside I can see only bright white, molten lava rather than snow. The chandelier hangs silent. A cat meows from somewhere above my head.

Teetering on my feet, the thought of water and food runs through my head. I am trying to remember what happened, how I ended here in this house, what my life was like before. Snow fills my brain, flurries of confusion, time lapse and blood loss run rampant on my memory. I have fluttering horrific memories, a creeping panic climbing my back like remembering a nightmare. The only certainty I possess is the shelter of this house and the injuries mangling and impairing my hands.

My footsteps arouse dust clouds that swirl and dance around my knees. My shoes, once decent sneakers, now shreds of rubber squeak with every step. The stairs threaten to collapse as I selectively climb them. A moth-eaten rug runs the expanse of the staircase and the giant green eyes of a tiger stare ominously at me as I skip that stair. Decorating the walls are faces of stoic strangers, skin infinitely smooth captured on sepia canvas.

I think of my family waiting for me to come home everyday. At the dinner table, eyes avoiding my empty plate as I pound methodically at Jane’s body. My son waiting to be born to a drained family, destined to be jaded himself. I see a man in my home, touching Cate’s shoulder, awarded with a smile. Cate chops celery, her

At the top of the stairs I find a room papered with ducks in sailor outfits. In the corner there is a wooden toy box, I recognize the knotted blonde oak from the downstairs table. I am beginning to cross the room when my daughter Ashley emerges from the closet. The sight of her red hair melts the snow coating my brain and memories of the previous night come crashing down on me. I remember Cate’s witchcraft and the suspicious kid from the gas station.

Ashley, what are you doing here? Where’s Allison and mommy?

The little girl acts as if I am not in the room, going to the toy box, opening the lid, and tenderly reaching inside. From the depths of the wooden chest, Ashley produces a slick human heart. She turns to face me directly.

Here, daddy, I made this for you.

Oh my , what have you done Ashley?

The heart in her hands beats once. She holds the organ closer to my face. The smell of blood and plasma is overwhelming. My head is swimming and I watch as my daughter’s face splits into a beaming smile.

It’s mommy’s. I hear you yell and she says you have no heart. So I took hers for you. I hope you like it.

The heart beats, the sound like a bass drum in my ears. I back into the wall, grasping at a cedar cradle on the back wall. My legs give way and I tumble to the ground. The cradle crashes on top of me. She steps closer, confusing flushing her eyes.

Aren’t you happy, daddy? I want you to have it. You need it more. Here, please daddy. Take it. I made it for you.

No, , no! Ashley, stop!

You never want to do anything with me!

I am trapped under the tangled crib, scrambling to free myself. My daughter has her mother’s green eyes, unfocused and wild, and they are filling my vision, the pale jade of illness. The beating heart is pounding my ears, threatening to explode my eardrums. Robotically, she approaches. I see long strands of red hair falling out behind her. The smell of decay is enveloping me until I shield myself from my young daughter. I wait, expecting to be doused in Cate’s entrails. Suddenly, there is the quiet of an empty house. I hear no pounding hearts or child’s laughter.

Tentatively I drop my arms. The room is exactly the same as before, save that the blonde toy box is missing. I am shaking violently as I remove myself from the mess of broken cradle.



I find my mother on the landing. She is in a large wheelchair, a blanket on her lap and her hair in a tight bun. Her cheeks are sunken and her eyes cloudy. Death looms in her face and I start down the stairs, feeling foolish and scared.

Wait, Phil.

What do all of you want? Why are you torturing me?

Your mother is far from torturing you. You are tormenting yourself. Allowing your mother to die without you. I’m ashamed.

I’m sorry I’m not there right now, mom. I really tried to make it.

Yes, I’m sure, there is always an excuse. Just like the excuse you give Cate every time you go out with that tart.

Jane is not a tart.

How dare you say her name to me? Do you have respect for no one? You are raising those girls on the wrong path. One of them will end up pregnant soon.

Why is this happening?

You have to make the change yourself, Phil. Protect your family. Survive. You’ve already failed in your marriage.

But dad never protected us. How am I supposed to know what to do?

Learn from your father’s mistakes. You will know. the answers are inside you.

But I don’t know.

In the next moment I am staring only at varnish and dust. Sunlight is streaking the hardwood floors. I squat in the doorway of the bedroom, leaning my face to the ground. In the dust are thousands of child-sized footprints. Prints from toddlers growing to barefoot steps the size of my daughters. Paths left from ages of my ancestors. Slowly I am extending my arm, and with my fingertips I graze the sole of a footprint the size of Allison’s. The dusty floor is soft and warm to the touch.

A gunshot explodes behind me. I startle and huddle in place momentarily, but then slowly turn. As I assumed, there is nobody standing behind me, only drab wooden walls covered in dust. A small hole marks the wall. So small, in fact, that I would not have noticed it had the dust around it not been dancing with disruption.

I hear the sound of struggling from downstairs. Not the sound of fighting or destruction, more of a panic, a heavy thrashing. It is almost a quiet sound, but far from being silent. The floorboards below my feet are trembling, the house suddenly anxious. Slowly I walk onto the landing. From below I hear the sound traveling up the staircase. There is a spasmodic knocking violently resounding between the sounds of scraping. The noise sounds particularly familiar, sending chills into the dead nerves of my arms. I approach the stairs and realize the noise is coming from the wonderful dining room. Taking one step at a time, I bend attempting to see from the staircase. From this angle I can only see the end of the table. It quivers with movement. The noise sounds more sluggish than before. I am on the bottom landing, and I make my way towards the dining room.

Turning the corner I see the doe’s head connect with the chandelier’s iron casting. A sickening thud echoes through the house as her nose breaks. She has a fine set of antlers, long and elegant, infused perfectly with the rest of the antlers on the chandelier, turning her neck at an impossible angle. Her body stretches vertically, exposing her elegant white underbelly. Her back hooves are scarring ruts into the magnificent oak table she is extended above with every panicked batter. Blood oozes from a small hole in her stomach. Each breath is shallower than the last as her own weight breaks her neck.

Daddy, why did you make me do that?

A small child is standing next to me, staring ahead at the deer. He is clutching the back of a thick chair, pale and scared. A sense of calm washes over me.

I’m not your dad.

Why did I have to do that?

He has blood on his hands and face.

Sometimes you do things that are wrong in your life. Sometimes your parents will lead you wrong. You have to make the decision.

What did you decide, Phil?

Tears were streaking rivers into the guts on his cheeks.

I made my decision too late. It’s too late.

I turn away from the scene, leaving the weeping boy and the deer alone for her last few minutes alive together, the way it had always been.

There is a man in the distance. From the hall window he is a blue smudge against the white hills. The sun is setting behind him, and I lose him momentarily in the orange glow.

I’m not going to let this happen. I am going to survive. My family will survive.

Turning my back on the window I walk into the kitchen, wandering through the grime. I idly trail my fingers over the coated counters, my counters.

This is my home, I am not going to let anyone into my home.

I hear banging at the door, an insistent pounding from the intruder. I walk to the doorway of the kitchen, looking down the hallway.

Is somebody in there? This is Rich Felman from a few houses east. Do you need help? Did you crash last night?

He just wants to kill me. He’s going to torture me like the others. Opening a nearby drawer, I find a rusty knife. The blade is chipped and broken, but the oak handle shines as if recently polished.

Go away! We don’t need you.

The intruder is pounding on the door again, shining a flashlight through the panes in the window. I feel the harsh glare of his spotlight land on my face. The sun is completely behind the hills now and my house is growing dim.

Sir, I’m coming in to get you. I can help you. You need medical attention.

I said go away asshole! You’re not coming in!

The door shatters as he forces his boot through. The shards of wood reflect his light and cast shadows on the floor, a million roaches scurrying into the shadows. I am going to protect my family. Allison grips my free hand.

Daddy I’m scared. What does he want?

I step out of the shadow of the doorway and sink my knife into the soft of his stomach. His flashlight clamors to the ground, but the whites of his eyes glow in the darkness. Red-hot blood rushes over my hands, down my pants and splatters onto my shoes. Questions gurgle in his throat as he drops to his knees. I slide my knife out of his abdomen and wipe it on my pants.

I stare out into the gray abyss past the doorway. The flashlight illuminates an ocean of blood.

I kneel next to his rigid body and affectionately stroke his beautiful antlers. I shift my weight, bending one of the twisted horns into the ground. The dead man’s head twists at a sickening angle and I begin chopping at the base of the antler.

Can I do that, daddy?

The boy sits next to me in the puddle of blood. I place the knife in his expecting hand and watch as he saws free his trophy. He struggles momentarily but pushes away my help. He’s crying and the man’s head is jerking spasmodically on the ground, sloshing in blood, mixing scalp and skin with dust from the antlers.

I can do it.

I know you can, son.

One antler snaps free and the boy stands. I remain seated next to the body of our sacrifice. I flip off the flashlight and allow the fresh night to fall around us. Allison’s approving eyes pierce through the night. The boy turns towards the open doorway and walks through, trailing the doe’s antler across the blood soaked entrance way.

Where are you going? I want to come.

Daddy, let him go, we need you here. You protect us now.

The boy does not turn. Barefoot, he steps over the porch and into the fresh snow. His small figure is cloaked in the nighttime and soon I can no longer make out his outline, only a trail marked with a child’s bloody footprints. The snow flurries around my home, pressing hot white protection against my porch. I begin to follow the boy, momentarily concerned. Allison grips my hand and we stare into the frigid abyss together

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