I entered this into a short story competition. The prompt was:
A man who lives alone sees a set of footprints leading away from his house the morning after a heavy snowfall. Prompt was written by Lee Child for Writers Digest.
I didn't win but wanted to share it with you guys. Let me know what you think, any comments welcome ;)
It had been days since he left the house. The memories had been flooding in lately, they seemed to be coming as bad as the snowstorm was. He couldn't think straight with the images in his head, so he'd lay in bed with his journal at his side, switching between writing and staring out of the windows, watching the snow fall.
'The images are back. Flashes of Miriam and Char are being etched into my mind. I can't do anything, I can't eat, I don't sleep, I can't think properly. All I can think of is them. Good memories of course, but then I feel happiness, and suddenly feel guilty that they're not here. I shouldn't be happy without them.'
The pills were gathered in a small cup on his bedside table, an unopened bottle of whisky along side it. He hadn't touched them, but wanted to keep them close, just in case.
'I dropped asleep for a little while earlier, I can't even remember closing my eyes. But I must have been sleeping, as I was dreaming, Dreaming of them again. Char was there, holding my hand, skipping in the grass. Miriam was sitting on a blanket, reading, she kept glancing towards us and smiling. I remember that day, I remember it like it was yesterday'
It had been 5 days now, he had to get out. He would rather have stayed, but the fire was dying, and he needed more wood. He grabbed his thick winter coat, shoved on his boots, and made way for the door. As he opened it, he noticed how much snow had actually fallen lately. The storm had calmed, and was nowhere near as bad as it was when it first appeared, but the snow fell very slightly still. He was just about to brace the cold, when he noticed a footprint. No, not just one, a set of footprints walking away from his door.
'What the...' he asked himself.
Who made these prints? He lived alone, and no one had visited him. He hadn't left the house for almost a week so they weren't his. Someone had been here, someone tried to break into his house? No, they couldn't have, he would have heard something, he'd hardly slept a wink. Something rustled further ahead, then he heard a laugh, and he was sure it was the laugh of a child.
I almost did it, I almost swallowed the pills. I want it to be over, I want to see them again. I can't carry on with this heartbreak'
Surely a child wouldn't be out here alone? But again, the laugh came. Whether it was growing curiosity, or concern over the child, the man walked ahead, following the footprints. He wanted to know what was out there, who was out there, and what kind of person would leave a child out here all by themselves. He got to the end of his walkway, when he saw something behind the bush ahead. A flick of light, a swish of a blue dress.
'Child? Come out. I won't hurt you. Are you alright?', he shouted.
The child appeared, she looked very much like his Charlotte. Petite, beautiful, happy. He neared her, slowly, just to make sure she wasn't hurt. But what he saw when he got closer, made him stop breathing. This girl didn't look like Charlotte, it was Charlotte.
'Daddy', she smiled.
The man collapsed to the floor, his knees sank in the snow. Charlotte ran to him, fell into his arms. The man clung to her, stroking her hair, tears dripping onto her dress.
Char, my baby girl. How are you here, I don't understand'.
'You don't need to understand Daddy, you just need to take my hand and know that we're going to be together always now. Mummy is waiting too', she whispered.
They stood together, took hold of each others hand, and walked. A light shone at the end of the street, and in it stood his wife. The man had never felt this much happiness, such a big cloud of guilt and sadness had lifted, as he looked at his beautiful family and smiled. Never again would he be alone.
Back at the house, his body lay in his bed, cold. No one would find him for a long while. A small cup lay on the floor, alongside an empty bottle of Whiskey. And even though the mans face was so blue, you could see the happiness in his smile.