Saturday, November 5, 2011
Posted by Jonathan Martin
Peter shivered beneath the falling snow. His hat rested warmly inside the house, probably on the table where he had forgotten it. New Years had come and gone, and by all accounts it was now the first Wednesday of the new year. He felt weird thinking of things in terms of days of the week again, after the many months of thinking only about the day before and the day after.
“Come on Kyle!” He shouted, looking down the hill at where the boy and his sled had stopped. Rocky stood beside the boy, tail wagging furiously, having just chased him.
Kyle looked up at him and yelled back, “One more time, please Peter?”
Despite himself, Peter laughed and agreed, “Only if I get to go too!”
Kyle ran up the hill, pulling the red plastic disc behind him by a yellow piece of nylon rope. When he reached the top, he was panting, but managed to hand the rope to Peter. “Your turn!”
Awkwardly, glad none of the others were around to see this display, Peter sat down in the disc and held on to the rope, scooting forward with his feet until the slope of the hill took him. Quickly he tucked his feet tight against his body and felt the cold air blow past, and the stinging snowflakes touch his face. As he neared the bottom, he hit a bump and went tumbling down the remainder of the hill. Once he finally rolled to a stop, he stood up, checking his clothing for tears, and making sure that the pistol was still tucked firmly against the small of his back. He retrieved the sled from where it had stopped and began the trek back up the hill to deliver it to Kyle for one last run.
As he crested the hilltop, a flock of birds took flight from a stand of trees about a mile from where they stood. “Here Kyle,” Peter said, passing the sled to Julie’s son and turning his attention back to the trees.
Kyle went down with a shouted “Wee!” and Rocky ran after, barking, but Peter’s attention was on the distant figure that had emerged from the copse of trees.
“Kyle, stay down there.” Peter said over his shoulder, hoping the sound would not carry far. “And get Rocky to shut up.” He drew his gun and held it limply, watching as the figure stumbled in the snow before getting back up and resuming it’s course towards him.
Nervously, Peter waited, casting glimpses over his shoulder, seeing that Kyle was at the bottom of the hill making snow angels. Finally, when the figure became clearer he realized that, beneath the heavy coat was a woman, her cheeks red and raw from the wind, and snow clinging to her black hair. A ragged, filthy purse hung loosely from her left shoulder.
“That’s far enough.” Peter told her when she was about twenty feet away.
She stopped, and peered at Peter, cocking her head slightly, just enough for Peter to see the frozen tears hanging from her face.
“Are you ok?” He asked her.
“He said the war was coming.” She responded, her shoulders beginning to heave, as more tears came spilling forth.
“Who said that?” Peter asked, but he knew the answer.
“Graham, the Burning Man, the Nightmare Man, he said it.” She said, rapid fire as her whole body shook with sobs. She took a step forward, causing Peter to take one back.
He stole a glance over his shoulder, estimating the number of steps he had before he was walking down the hill. He also caught a glimpse of Kyle, who was silent but watching him. “What does he want?”
“All he told me was that the war is coming.” She wiped her nose on her sleeve, pulling away the frozen tears.
“Calm down. When did he tell you, where was this?” More questions came to mind, but Peter stuck with those two.
She pointed to the south, where thick clouds of black smoke rose into the sky, and had been for almost a week solid.
“I should have known,” Peter said under his breath.
Cautiously, Peter took a step forward, “Miss, are you okay?”
“The war is coming, I must spread the news. He told me to.”
“I know that ma’am, but you need some food.”
“He provides me with food.”
“What?” Peter asked and raised his pistol as the woman reached blueing fingers into her purse. She stumbled with something inside before finally producing a dead bird, a large bite mark in it’s grey chest. He lowered the weapon again, breathing a small sigh of relief.
“Miss, you need your hands looked at, your fingers don’t look right.” Peter said, taking another step towards the woman.
She raised her voice, “The war is coming! He is leading the army.”
Peter forgot about her hands momentarily, “How big is his army?”
“The war is coming!”
He stepped forward again and she shrieked.
“Calm down lady, I’m just trying to help.” Peter watched as a deer darted from the same clump of trees the woman had come from, startled by her scream.
“The war is coming.” She growled.
“I know. But ma’am, your hands…”
She repeated herself twice more, despite his attempts to offer her help.
“Okay ma’am,” Peter said, pulling his gloves. “I’m going to set these right here.” He spoke calmly as he knelt down and set the gloves in the snow. “Feel free to take them.” He took a few steps back, until he felt the slope of the hill beneath his feet. “We’re leaving now,” and then to Kyle, “Come on, let’s go.”
Peter, Kyle and Rocky travelled back towards the house. After they had gone about a hundred yards, Peter held out his hand and told Kyle to stop. Peter crept back towards the hill, but did not see the woman at all. Slowly, unsure of what he would find, Peter walked up the hillside.
His gloves were not there, and neither was the woman, her footprints leading away from the hilltop, in the same direction the deer had run.