Steady as the Snow Falls

By: Lindy Zart

ONE





THE FIRST SNOWFALL of the season began as she drove her beat up and rusted forest green Chevrolet Blazer along the winding driveway to the house set on a hill. She’d never seen it up close before, even though she’d trekked the road that ran along its borders countless times. It was miles from town, alone and out of place in a small farming community.

Beth Lambert’s gloved fingers tightened on the steering wheel, her breaths coming short and uneven. She felt insane, a sliver mad, but also excited. Life was an adventure, and in believing that, sometimes she jumped without knowing where she was going to land. Those around her who didn’t understand said it was a regrettable part of her personality. But Beth didn’t understand how anyone could expect great things to happen when they didn’t go after what they wanted.

You can’t stand still and hope to dance. You’ve been standing still for a long time now, Beth.

“This is me, going on a journey, how ever impractical it may be,” she told herself, ignoring the swirling sensation inside her stomach that said she wasn’t as brave as she presently acted. Telling her she was beyond dancing, beyond second chances.

Beth scowled. No one got to decide that, not even her.

“Jumping without a landing in sight. I am a bad-ass.” Beth’s voice lacked conviction and she made a face as she pictured her ex-boyfriend. She couldn’t get away from him in the compact town in which they both lived, and she couldn’t get away from him inside her head. At least with her new job, she could physically avoid him for substantial periods of time.

Ozzy would smile patronizingly and tell her she had a better chance of cutting off her finger with a spoon than going on a great quest just a few miles outside of town. And Beth would smile in return and not say anything back, even as a thread of her joy unraveled.

Beth turned her thoughts back to her destination. Destination. Destiny. She was on a destination to find her destiny. A muscle beneath her eye went into a spasm, either in agreement or protestation.

Everyone said a man lived there—that he’d made Crystal Lake, Minnesota his residence two years ago. Whispers and slanted looks accompanied each vague, gossipy detailing. They talked about the wealthy recluse who’d been seen in public only a handful of times, and even that was rumored. No one could give an accurate account of his looks, or character. No one knew his age. Versions ranged from a man in his thirties to one in his eighties. No one even knew his legal name; the mailbox at the start of his driveway simply read ‘C. Harris’.

It was said he was grotesquely deformed, and that was why he hid. It was said he murdered his wife when he caught her with another man, and that his money bought his innocence in a court hearing. It was said any who’d gone to his home never came back. She didn’t believe the stories, and yet her whole body was stiff, as if seized by fear. No one really knew anything as fact, and that made people worry, and worrying people were the worst. They let their imagination overrun common sense.

Trepidation traveled with her, bringing the cold of outside into the vehicle, clutching her nerves. Freezing her. Beth turned off the radio, finding silence an appropriate passenger to make the journey with her. When the Blazer felt like the front of it was standing upright instead of flush with the road, and she could see nothing but frosty skies and the SUV’s dash, the world evened out. She took her boot off the accelerator, the vehicle creeping forward as she stared.

Don’t be scared. It’s just a house—with a stranger inside. Her pulse shot into overdrive. Don’t be scared.

The lightly falling snow made it seem like a scene out of a snow globe. A house painted clover green stood proud and sure, snow-tipped pine trees hugging either side of it, and white-cloaked hills beyond. If there were Christmas lights, or any kind of decoration, it would be inviting. As it was, unadorned and dark, it was eerie. She swallowed, straightening the wheel when the Blazer slid toward the lawn. Beth parked on the left side of the garage, as per the emailed instructions she had read one thousand times.

Weightless snowflakes fell upon her stocking cap and coat as she removed her laptop case from the passenger seat. The snow was coming down faster, and in bigger flakes. Beth didn’t like to drive in snow, and the forecast for the upcoming hours and days did not look promising. There was no way she was going to cancel the meeting, not with the amount of money offered—money she needed to continue to have a house, food and heat for the house, and other necessities. She would take her time driving back home, and if it took an hour to travel six miles, she would do it.

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