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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.         

     



 

Her fingers that held the handle of the laptop case were clenched tight,  causing pinpricks of pain, and she relaxed them as much as she could  without dropping her most prized possession. The whiteness of her  surroundings hurt her sensitive eyes, and she blinked as she looked back  toward the SUV, and escape.

There's nothing to be scared about. You're fine. You're here to do a  job. Be professional. Here is your awaiting dream. Take it, and don't  let go.

Taking a deep breath of icy air, she walked toward the house, looking  for signs of disuse or abandonment. Everything was clean, updated. Well  cared for. No dirt, no cobwebs. No broken windows, or mold covering the  siding. No blood, her conscience mocked. Beth's boots sank in the fast  accumulating snow, the scent of pine fresh and welcome. She hesitated  before the white door. The emailed instructions she'd received two days  ago said to enter without announcing her arrival. That seemed  ill-mannered to her, but she didn't want to mess up on her first day at  the new job.

Beth gripped the doorknob in her trembling hand, and turned it. She  stepped inside, quickly closed the door behind her, and looked around.  It felt like a large, carnivorous cavern. A lifeless structure that  swallowed those who entered. The pale coloring of the bare walls and  uncovered windows allowed light into an otherwise dark foyer. On the  outside, the house appeared imposing, but inside, it was empty. Where  were the memories, the pictures-the personality able to be detected in a  piece of furniture or decorative piece?

"It's okay," she whispered to herself, her throat thick and her mouth dry. "He's frugal, that's all. Frugal is good."

The scent of bleach and synthetic lemons entered her senses, and beneath  that, something acridly sweet, like death covered up by the façade of  life. Leave, Beth. Leave and never return. Her feet unconsciously turned  to the door, and she forced herself back. Leaving would be cowardly,  and she only wanted to be brave. The laptop felt heavy, the weight of  her agreement dragging her hand to the hardwood floor. She tried to  remember in which room she was supposed to set up, but the emails over  the last few weeks jumbled up in her mind until they became  indecipherable lettering with no meaning.

She removed her outerwear, including her boots that were leaving puddles  on the black floor mat. A shelf with hooks covered part of the wall,  and she hung up her coat, setting her hat and gloves above on the shelf.  With panic racing over her back in chilly sweeps, Beth turned right and  walked through a wide hallway to a kitchen. It was pristine, without a  single item out of place. She lingered long enough to note the black  appliances and cream-painted walls before turning and heading the other  way.

It was too quiet. Beth's palms sweated, and she rubbed her free hand  against her blue jeans, switching hold of the laptop case to do the same  with the other. Her pulse was churning out a beat that was pure mayhem.  She wondered if she was alone in the house. It felt like she was. She  didn't want to call out, because then it would be obvious she was lost,  and then her reliability would be put in doubt. He'd given explicit  orders, and she was unintentionally disobeying them.

Beth cursed under her breath, staring at the stairway that ran along one  wall of the entryway. Had anything been mentioned about an upstairs or a  second level? She couldn't remember, but she didn't think so. She had  two options. She could go forward through the closed French doors across  the spacious room, or she could go through the hallway to the left.

The outrageous, and of course, untrue tales, told by family and friends,  and even Ozzy, shot through her brain, dizzying in their forceful  clarity. Crystal Lake was full of yapping jaws and not enough logic. She  knew-she'd had her share of mistruths spread about her over the years  without much thought to her feelings. Beth shook her head at the echo of  the words, clamped her lips shut, and marched for the French doors. She  opened the right side of the doors and went still.

All the materialistic items lacking in the other rooms were arranged in  the space before her. Though the walls were painted a cold gray, the  furniture set up invitingly in the middle of the room was the bluest of  blues, the kind of bold hue of blue found in peacock feathers. A  bookcase was built into one part of the wall, filled with a rainbow of  books-more books than she could read in two years, maybe three. Beth's  favorite books were the kind that made her want to write, and that made  her wonder how someone else could write in such an impactful way.

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