Halloween Shorts

Footsteps

By Susan Cunningham

We thought we had forever, but the war ended it all. Jonathan left with a promise to return, so I waited and let hope fill the emptiness inside. At night, I roamed the empty rooms of our home, overcome by echoes of happiness.

Approaching dust on the road signaled the arrival of our loved ones. Soldier after soldier passed by; their uniforms tattered and their eyes lost behind whatever horrors had befallen them.  I watched until the lines ended and hope abandoned me.

I remember little since that day. Sanity has a way of protecting itself against the sword of grief, so the missing memories feel like a gift, not a curse.

Footsteps haunt my life. They echo throughout our home like claps of thunder rolling across the sky. At first, I was elated at the sounds, assuming my beloved had escaped the barrier of death to return.

Now, I fear them. I know they will come, but I’m powerless to stop the approach, powerless to stop the emptiness they bring.

Tonight, the dread in my heart is unbearable.  The fireplace has died down to embers of cold light, but I dare not stoke it.

Muffled sounds begin in the distance.  I close my eyes, frozen to all but the noise while it moves closer.  The stairs creak…the fifth stair is always the loudest.  A crack from an ember breaks the paralysis holding me. The door swings open and a breeze flows through the air.   I stand to face the shadow crouched before the fireplace.

The room illuminates to reveal dim forms, and I see a man tending the fire. His hair is cropped in a strange manner, his clothes awkward in appearance.

I run to the door and reach for the handle, but my hand is transparent. The man stands, and I close my eyes just before he walks through me.  The haunting ghost of truth has caught me once again.

The room burns with memories not my own. I am surrounded by the unfamiliar set about the home I once shared with my love.  The stranger drinks from a wine glass and settles into bed, unaware of my presence.

The protective barrier around my sanity collapses. I am empty, a hollow shell of only painful memories. My body has long since crumbled to dust, my substance a distant recollection. I know why I dread the footsteps…they bring memories I long to forget; emptiness of a life without Jonathan;  hope as I stepped off the cliff to the jagged rocks below; then despair as death itself kept me from my beloved.

Morning will be here soon, bringing nothingness until the night calls to me. But, the nothingness fades; it teases me until the lingering sense of dread returns and the footsteps haunt me.

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