Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Story Hop

Hi there, thanks for stopping by.

For this 2nd Annual Goodreads B2B CyberConvention Story Hop, at least fifteen authors have written stories of every genre just for your entertainment.

My story will follow this post, so sit back, relax, and fire up your computer or other reading device while we fire up your imagination as you hop from story to story.

The link will go live on April 8th as the convention begins, so stay tuned and please, when you read one you like, let the author know in a comment. It means so much . . .

The Soft Onslaught of Snow

© Ann Swann

            He thought he’d be the first to go, him with this affinity for pasta and Guinness Stout, carrying that spare tire all these years as a testament to her fine cooking and his lack of will. Every time he’d indulged in a stogie down at the club, she had frowned and given him that look. She said he was a walking advertisement for how to die without really trying.
            Instead, like a cruel cosmic joke, it had been her, his Martha, the salad eater, Robert Frost reader, power walker, barely-social-drinker, smoke-detester; she had gone first. After forty wonderful years, the stroke had taken her as surely and swiftly as if she’d been right there beside him all those years—indulging all the way.
            Her death had nearly killed him, too. But he’d held on, for the children, for the grandchildren. Even though he felt like a walking apology for not going first. He still held on. He didn’t know what else to do.
            Eventually, he even went back to the club. His old pals, Jake and Ira, kept after him until he gave in. There was no one else they could beat so handily on the golf course, they said. No one whose money they could take so easily. They were good friends. So he’d returned. Sometimes, he would even tip a glass to Martha; stub his stogie out early.
            Tonight, after he’d stubbed out his cigar and the last spark had died away, he was certain he’d heard the tinkling sound of her laughter. It had sounded like harness bells.
            That’s when he knew it was time to go home.
            The trek to the house felt like magic. He kept his eye on the sidewalk, as if a yellow brick road might suddenly appear beneath the finely falling snow.
            His house—really Martha’s house, her stamp on it so evident he could’ve mailed it across the sea—stood like a sturdy sentinel against the grief of everyday life.
            He fit his key into the lock, reassured by the heavy clunk of the tumblers inside the ancient mechanism. Some things don’t wear out. Some things last a long, long time. Maybe forever.
            He smiled at the thought that his house, their house, with this same complicated, antique, door lock, had been here before he was born, and would probably be here long after he was gone—long after they were both gone—provided it was properly maintained.
            Stamping the snow from his good shoes, he hung his coat on the rack and went straight to the corner table in the den where they kept a bottle of Rémy Martin in a crystal decanter. The sound-memory of the sleigh bells at the club brought a smile to his face as he removed the cut-glass stopper and tipped a bit of cognac into a snifter. A nightcap would warm him from the inside out, and a fire in the fireplace would warm him from the outside in.
            He pressed the button on the remote control and a gas log bloomed with flame. A chuckle rose in his throat as he recalled Martha’s insistence that a fire made that easily was hardly worth having, and then he lowered himself into his customary easy chair. Placing his glass on the ever-present coaster near his elbow, he rested his feet upon the tufted footstool, and closed his eyes.
            But he couldn’t relax. Something was off. Something big. He got up and wandered about, drink in hand, checking doors and windows, looking for anything out of the ordinary.
            He found nothing amiss, but the chair no longer beckoned so he turned off the fire, sipped his last sip of cognac, and rinsed his glass in the kitchen sink the way Martha had taught him. Placing it carefully in the red drain board on the counter, he turned out the light and proceeded across the room by the bright reflection of moonlight on new snow.
            A pocket of darkness waited in the hallway.
            Was that a footstep on the stair, on that one squeaky riser he’d never been able to conquer? He hesitated, waiting to hear it again, breath aching in his suddenly-too-tight chest.
            Hand over his heart, he made his way upstairs, where he peered out at the night from between their navy and gold bedroom curtains. His eye found the humped up shape of her snow-blanketed privet hedge. It defined the western boundary of the pristine yard. Beyond was only forest. A vast wooded National Park Preserve.
            The park was one of the main reasons they had fallen in love with the place when they were newlyweds. Try as they might, they had never been able to explore every nook and cranny. Martha had dubbed it “the forest of the poets.” She joked that she could easily imagine a little horse stopping by.
            To him, it was more like Narnia.
            He took a final survey of his home. All the doors were locked, windows secure, lights doused . . . except for the reading lamp over his chair. He could see it from the landing. The Victorian lamp glowed cozily. He’d left the ball stopper off the decanter of cognac. Martha’s favorite book of poetry still lay beside her chair. He only allowed Mrs. L to move it on cleaning day. She knew to put it right back when she was done. Even the bookmark was still in place. He liked the way it looked there, as if his dear Martha had simply marked her place and gone upstairs ahead of him.
            Peering down at his chair, beneath the cozy light, the tightness in his chest eased. Nothing was amiss. All was well.
            He treaded lightly back down to the kitchen, consciously stepping on the squeaky riser, but it made no sound.
            Opening the back door, he gazed out upon the bright, bright night.
            The snow had been falling for hours now. The trees wore white shawls and icy beards. The privet hedge only appeared when he neared it.
            He glanced back at his footprints, wondering what the children would think, if they noticed them at all. Wondering if Martha had left prints he hadn’t known to see.
            Past the privet, she took his hand. This time, he definitely heard the gentle shake of harness bells. Whose woods are these, I think I know . . .
            She handed him a stogie and he smiled at her lovely, beloved face.
            “It’s still snowing,” he said.
            She stuck out her tongue to catch a flake.
            He squeezed her hand, contentment flooding him at last.
            Her fingers were warm as toast, even in the frigid air. “I think the tracks will fill in,” he said. “I’m not expecting anyone until tomorrow.”
            Together they turned and strolled into the Robert Frost woods. “Narnia,” he said. “Maybe the talking beasts will appear.”
            She laughed her tinkly laugh and led him through the trees.
            Behind them, his solitary footprints grew shallower and shallower under the soft onslaught of snow.

The end

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