By David Hunter
Dave stood on the front porch of his little cabin wearing only his robe and a pair of slippers, staring out at the set of footprints in the snow stretching from his front door. They trailed off down his path and into the woods surrounding his property.
He had no idea how they got there. He hadn’t been out in days (Due to the storm, Dave decided the world could do without his presence for the duration, so he proceeded to get blotto on wine) and this being rural Alaska, he never got visitors. The strange part was, the prints went out, instead of coming in. As if someone had left his place but hadn’t really come in the first place.
He quickly went back in (locked the door) and got dressed. He grabbed a baseball bat.
He followed the prints by walking in them, surprised that they were the same size as his own boots. The guy musta stole a pair of my Kodiaks, he thought. He followed them into the woods, down a few switchback trails, down an old logging road and out into a large clearing. They led out into the middle of it, and stopped.
“What the ..?”
Dave’s eyesight was a little blurry from three days of Johnny Walker (He only stopped drinking because he ran out) but he could clearly see the pristine condition of the untrammeled glen; an unbroken panorama of snow. Only he and the lone footprints were present and accounted for.
Backtracking through the prints, he headed back to the cabin where he decided that he was hallucinating about the entire thing, that’s all, and besides, it had started snowing again; time to get to the general store in Sleetmute and stock up; Priorities.
Well Old Bill Giddons who ran the store said they’d run out of Johnny Walker and would he be interested in some Chinese Cooking Wine? Dave feigned insult, but bought two bottles anyway, slapping a sawbuck on the counter.
“Bill, you ever have any trouble with footprints?” he asked absently.
“Huhn?” grunted Bill.
“Never mind,” said Dave. He scooped up his bottles and left.
The snow had turned heavy and he barely got his truck up the switchback to his cabin. He saw that the newly fallen snow had obliterated the tracks, and a sheet of flat white lay in front of his place. As if they had never been there.
Instead of walking up to the porch, he sidetracked around to the back and entered there.
Instead of sleeping, he sat up all night drinking his Chinese Cooking Wine and staring out the front window as the snow fell, and fell. And fell.
He woke up sometime later, not knowing what time it was, but seeing that it was at least sometime before dawn. One bottle of the cooking wine was empty, sprawled on the floor, and the other was still in his hand, unopened.
He sprang to the door, opened it. The cold air fluttered into his untied robe and he braced against it.
This time the prints started from his window, down the steps, and disappeared behind the house. Dave, furious, grabbed the Remington Rifle leaning beside the door, put his boots on, and marched outside, stomping along the steps, obliterating them.
They led around the house, through an old trail behind his cabin, through a small copse of trees, across a bridge, and over to an embankment of the Crosshead river, a small tributary. He saw the prints continue down the frozen water and out of sight.
Dave slid down onto the ice and followed. Damn the torpedoes!
He cocked the rifle as he followed the prints around a bend in the river, where, to his chagrin, they stopped.
“What is this?” yelled Dave to no one on particular. In desperation, he leveled his gun to where the footprints terminated and fired, yelling something incoherent.
The ice cracked underneath his feet and down he went, his skin pierced with millions of tiny cold needles. He gasped, but held onto his gun somehow.
Whether he was in his death throes, or he was still drunk, what he saw was this: a man about his age, suspended in the water in front of him, a look of surprise on his face. He swam away into the murk and that was the last Dave saw of him. In fact, it was the last thing Dave ever saw.