Snow

by Eris Young

Alexander Pines stamped into Louie’s Bar and Grill, shaking unseasonable snow from his Timberland boots, and exchanged a few quiet words with the bartender.

“Thanks,” he said, wrapping burning fingers around the steaming mug Louie set before him. He sat for a few minutes huddled into himself, waiting for the chill to fade, peering at neon beer ads and decorative singing bass, long since familiar to him.

“Cold winter,” said Louie, eyes glued to the massive paperback he was reading.

“The coldest,” Alex sniffed, taking a tentative sip from his mug, and leaned forward over the bar a little, “what’s that, Dostoevsky?”

“Mmhm.”

Alex nodded and waited for Louie to go on. He didn’t. It being Tuesday evening, the place was nearly empty, save for a white guy sitting a few stools down. Alex stole a glance. He was barrel-chested and bullet-headed. He swiveled his head in Alex’s direction. Alex flicked his eyes away.

“Buy you a beer?” The man held his glass up and Louie refilled it, eyes roving calmly between Alex and the stranger.

“I’m seventeen.”

“So?”

“I don’t drink,” said Alex, keeping his face neutral and his eyes on his mug.

“Everybody drinks. What’s that?”

“Tea,” Alex wondered if he could move to another seat without starting any trouble. This guy was over six foot tall. His hand wrapped all the way around his glass. Alex considered leaving, but he had half a mug of tea left and his feet were still pretty numb.

“You an eskimo?”

The question, though not unexpected, caught Alex wholly off-guard. He responded on instinct, without meaning to,

“What?”

“An Eskimo. Like an Indian.”

Alex closed his eyes, “I’m Tlingit,” he said it the American way, ‘tuh-ling-it’.

“Alright,” that seemed to satisfy the stranger, he stayed quiet. Gradually the tension that had caught Alex’s chest into a tight knot began to relax. He still wanted to be gone. He took a generous sip of his tea, burned his tongue and put the cup down. He hesitated before leaving it on the counter, and Louie took it from him,

“I got a thermos in the back-” he said, half getting up from his chair behind the bar.

“I’m fine, thanks Louie,” Alex zipped his parka and cinched up the hood, sidling past the stranger, who didn’t look up.

***

Half an hour later found him still on the road home. Ketchikan was a small town, the total distance from the docks to his house was a mile and a half, and took him thirty minutes on a bad day. Today was worse than bad. The wind bit through his clothes and the snow, which had been falling for hours, made the journey slow-going.

It almost never snowed in Ketchikan, they were too far south. The area around the city was closer to a rainforest than to the taiga of farther north, but an unexpected cold front had caught everyone unprepared. For the time being, the news had said, they’d have to start shovelling or the roads would become impassable. Luckily the city had its own plow and the road Alex was on had already been done, but if it kept up like this until morning, travelling would be difficult.

Alex was just out of sight of the lights of the town. There were trees to either side and it was almost pitch dark. He had to pick up his feet to keep from tripping, and every once in a while he would slide a little in the dirty slush that lined the edge of the road.

Alex walked most days because rain and old roads made biking dangerous, but at this moment he would have risked it to make the trip a little faster. His feet were going to be soaked by the time he got home. He wished to god he owned a car. He was considering going back to Louie’s and asking for an extra pair of socks or a thermos or a ride home when a pair of headlights lit up the road in front of him. Alex turned and stopped, momentarily blinded, as the truck pulled to a halt beside him. The driver’s seat was occupied, of course, by the stranger from Louie’s. The window slid down,

“Wanna ride?”

Alex hesitated, genuinely torn. He sighed, and jogged around the other side of the truck. He passed through the headlights, turned up too bright for the weather. The GMC logo glinted dully on the front bumper.

He climbed into the passenger’s side and found himself in a furnace. The heating was turned up full-blast and within minutes he was sweating. He took off his scarf and stuck his hat in his pocket, while the stranger played with the radio: static— after midnight; Out in the moonlight; Just like we used to do, I’m always—“-inds reported throughout the southeast, residents of Gateway Borough and surrounding area advised to stay in”—Anchorage six Des Moines zero— . The stranger left it there and it ebbed and flowed in the background like waves as service cut in and out and the truck rattled over bumps in the road and crunched through icy gravel.

“You at school?”

Alex rolled his eyes, face towards the window, “No. Yeah. I applied last fall,” please don’t try and start a conversation.

“I’m here for the hunting. Big game.”

“Uh-huh,” Alex looked out the window. He could see lights up ahead, “this is me,” he said it quiet, almost under his breath, and started to repeat himself, but the truck was already rolling to a stop.

“Here’s fine,” he hopped out and sucked in a breath as cold air hit him in the face. He started up the walkway and didn’t look back until the sound of the truck died away, the glow of the taillights just visible down the road until it faded into black. He’d left his scarf on the seat of the truck. Goddamnit. He let it go.

There were a few inches of snow on the concrete, but it had been shovelled recently. His mother was in the kitchen, washing dishes,

“Dinner was at six.”

“Hi mom,” he took off his parka and pullover and left them with his boots in the entryway, “I know, I’m sorry.”

“Yours is in the oven.”

“Thanks,” he kissed her on the cheek and took his dinner, salmon fillet and potatoes, out of the oven, “You shouldn’t have shovelled the walkway, mom. You should’ve waited til I got home.”

“I had to take out the garbage.”

“You shoulda left it until I got home, you don’t need to do that stuff, mom, that’s what I’m here for.”

Alex tried to keep his tone lighthearted but he felt a twinge of guilt at the words that hung unsaid in the air between them: he wouldn’t be at home forever. In fact he hoped he wouldn’t. His mother sighed and went back to washing dishes. Alex started eating, realizing with even more guilt that he was very hungry.

“Are these the frozen steaks? From Safeway?”

“Tatsuda’s.”

“They’re good.”

“Not as good as fresh ones, but pretty good. Boris is back.”

Alex noticed the extra place setting for the first time, “When?”

“Since one. If you’d have been at dinner you’d have seen him.”

“Where’d he go?”

“I don’t know, but he left his stuff in the spare room.”

Alex felt a familiar resentment surfacing, stronger than it had been since he was twelve.

“He says he’s got a new job.”

“Uh-huh,” Alex stared at his plate, having lost all desire to talk.

***

He opened his eyes to piercing, white sunlight. His curtains were thrown wide, and when he sat up he saw a thick blanket of snow covering the yard, the surrounding houses, the trees. He swung his legs out of bed and went out the front door. The light blinded him for a moment, and when his eyes adjusted everything was still a sparkling pure white. He couldn’t tell where the land ended and the sky began. He couldn’t hear anything, as if the heavy white blanket thrown over the land had been thrown over him as well. He called out but the air ate his voice, trapping it in his throat.

His boots sank into the snow, he dragged his feet to the end of the driveway. He blinked, he could see something in the road, where he knew the road to be underneath all that snow. It was big, it looked like an animal, had the hulking outline of a bear, or something else. But it stood on two legs and moved like a man. It was dragging something behind it. Big game.

Alex tried to look at the figure, and then what it was dragging behind it, but he couldn’t. His eyes wouldn’t focus. It left a solid red line behind it in the snow. It turned to look him. Alex felt a panic grip him, the world shook—

“Alex? Alex.”

Someone was shaking him. He sat up and rubbed his eyes, reaching for his phone. 3:35 am, “Jesus, Boris, it’s early. What’s going on?”

“Nothing, man, I, uh, just got back, I wanted to say hi,” Boris crouched next to his bed. In the pale ray of moonlight seeping through his blinds, Alex could see Boris wearing a familiar smile, as if there was nothing in the world strange about waking your brother up in the middle of the night just to say hello.

And there wasn’t, really, not for Boris. He’d never had a regular circadian rhythm, and of course it didn’t occur to him that anyone else would, either. It wasn’t selfishness, exactly, but it was awfully close. That about summed Boris up. Not selfish, but close.

“Yeah, okay, I’ll see you tomorrow morning,” Alex rolled over to face the wall and said nothing. Boris sat for a few more seconds before leaving the room, shutting the door quietly behind him.

Alex shut his eyes but found he couldn’t sleep. He was still shaken from the dream, more-so than he wanted to admit. He felt a little sorry. Boris had done him a favor, waking him. He lay for a while, his thoughts edging carefully around the images the dream had left behind his eyelids, trying quietly not to think of any detail too clearly for fear of conjuring it up again.

Sleep must have found him again because he woke at eight to a voicemail from his boss. She had been snowed in and wouldn’t be able to open the store until later, and Alex should take the morning off. He shut his eyes, tired from a broken REM cycle, and went back to sleep. An hour later he was woken by a tapping on the window above his bed. Boris stood looking in, his face ruddy with the cold, grinning widely.

“Dude, snow!”

When Alex opened the front door his heart thudded. It took a few seconds to convince himself he hadn’t stepped back into the dream. Unlike the dream landscape, the scene before him was natural, imperfect. The trees, houses and cars all still had their color, only all half painted over with white. The road was thick and undefined under its coating of ice but it was dirty, foot-printed and tire-tracked into a sodden grey, not pristine like it had been in the dream.

“What a time to come back home, huh?”

Alex nodded. He smiled. It was good to see his brother again. If he’d have been asked the day before if he’d like to he’d have said no, but his heart fluttered at the sight of Boris perched on the picnic bench in the front yard, swept clean of snow and dead leaves. He had on his old olive parka from high school, and for a second he might have been the same older brother Alex remembered from half a decade ago.

But they were both older now, and the patina the years had cast over Alex’ memory of his brother was being rubbed off. Now Boris’ hair was shaggy, longer than it had ever been when he’d lived at home, and his jaw was shaded with a layer of stubble. He had dark circles under his eyes and Alex wondered if his irregular sleeping habits had begun to catch up with him. His smile was still the same, though, a kind of hungry grin that looked a little scary even if he didn’t mean it to.

They sat on the picnic bench for a while and talked. Impossible, though, to pack six years of conversation into half an hour. Boris was working for a startup company in Juneau. They designed and sold Native Alaskan art and clothing. Boris was visiting Ketchikan to talk to local artists.

“The yuppies like that stuff, huh?”

I like that stuff, Alex.”

“Sorry.” Boris was nothing if not sincere.

Alex changed the subject, “You still a vegetarian?”

“Vegan,”

Alex raised his eyebrows.

“-but I’m gonna eat whatever mom cooks. I’m not about to have that argument again.” Boris laughed softly and took a pack of cigarettes out of his jacket pocket. He put one in his mouth and offered the pack to Alex, who shook his head. Alex watched him as he lit it, cupping his hand around the end, a delicate gesture, almost tender. Boris looked at Alex, exhaling smoke, “What?”

“Nothing. Just- when did you start smoking?”

Boris chuckled again, “High school. I hid it pretty well, though.”

Alex felt again as though he were wiping dust off of the memory of his brother, revealing unexpected angles and imperfections. He thought he should feel disappointment but instead he felt relief. For years, he had thought about what it would be like to see Boris again, and he had dreamed up countless scenarios, fights, apologies, acceptances, resentments, but now he was simply happy to see him, to get to know him again.

“So you got a girlfriend yet?”

“No.”

“Boyfriend?”

“Nuh-uh.”

“You’re almost eighteen now, man. What’s the deal?”

“I don’t know, I just have other things to think about, I guess.”

“That never stopped me.”

“So you’re seeing somebody?”

“He’s Canadian.”

Alex nodded,

“He white?”

“Does that matter?”

“I guess not.”

***

Boris gave him a ride into town before noon. He rode a motorcycle now, and Alex was impressed. He sat behind Boris, wearing his spare helmet. Alex was still the taller of the two, but his brother had a solidness Alex lacked, a lower center of gravity. Alex felt he could ride behind Boris at eighty miles per hour—though they were only going twenty—without fear.

When they got to town Boris dropped Alex off at work and headed southeast on Tongass to talk to Mike Avery, an artist who lived in Saxman. Julia, Alex’s boss, had told him she was on her way, but she wasn’t there when they got to the shop. Alex didn’t have a key. He wandered across the street to the waterfront and sat on one of the floats low down, close to the water where the local boats were moored, bobbing gently. Translucent moon jellyfish floated idly near the surface, Alex watched them for a while, and as he watched more of them became visible, deeper down, paler spots against the deep green-black of the water.

“Excuse me,” said a voice behind him. He turned, startled, to see a blond man and a brown-haired woman standing above him at the top of the little gangway connecting the street to the float. They wore identical neon-green raincoats and greyish cargo pants.

“Do you live around here?” said the woman, leaning over the railing. He hoped she wouldn’t lean too hard, those railings never got repaired. He nodded.

“We want to go hiking, can you tell us a good spot?” She looked at the man beside her, as if for affirmation.

“Uh,” said Alex, thinking. He disapproved of tourists as a concept but confronted with one in person, out of season, caught him off guard, “you could take the Carlanna trail up to the lake. If you follow Tongass up that way you’ll hit Carlanna. Follow it away from the water and make a right- no, a left on Baranof. Follow that for like a mile, then make a right on Canyon and follow it all the way to the end.”

The man nodded, “Carlanna, Baranof, Canyon. Got it.” The woman typed something into her phone. She turned and spoke quietly to the man, who shook his head. Alex didn’t hear what she said but he saw her roll her eyes and put her phone away.

“And we had snow yesterday, so watch out for ice on the road.”

“Thanks,” said the woman, and followed her husband until they were out of sight. Alex hoped he had given them the right directions. If they needed help they could ask someone in town. He watched the jellyfish for a while longer, until a blue Ford 4×4 pulled up to the sidewalk above him. A grey haired woman stepped out,

“Morning, Alex.” It was Julia. They walked to the store together and Alex waited as she unlocked the door. It was freezing inside, and they kept their jackets on until the heating kicked in. Alex bustled around, dusting and straightening the displays of clothing, cultural artifacts, stuffed dead animals, more trying to warm himself than anything. He reorganized the front window displays, arranging pottery, jewelry, figurines and ornamental weapons according to culture; Iñupiat here, Tlingit there, Haida on the other side, and so on.

When he was finished, and Julia had opened the register, he flipped over the open/closed sign in on the door. There was no flood of customers, in fact no one came in for the first hour. No cruise ships came in in the winter, because even if it was warm enough for them to get to Ketchikan, it would be icy and impassable farther up the coast. Julia made cocoa, and a pot of tea for Alex. They sat and talked for a while as Julia went over the books.

Around one thirty Mike Avery came in with a collection of seascapes he wanted to sell at the store. Alex sat at the register while Mike and Julia went to the back gallery.

Five minutes later the bell tinkled and a large figure appeared at the door, silhouetted. Alex greeted the newcomer on instinct, but when he stepped into the overhead light Alex’s ‘good afternoon’ died in his throat. It was the stranger from the night before. If he recognized Alex he didn’t let on. He sidled between the displays with unexpected grace, inspected some watercolors, then some pottery animal figurines, and eventually stopped in front of the display of Native American weaponry on the back wall of the shop, across from the register. Alex looked down at his phone but watched the stranger out of the corner of his eye. What was taking Julia and Mr. Avery so long?

“What’s this made of, silver?” The stranger had taken a knife down from the wall. There was a Do not touch sign hanging nearby. Alex didn’t say anything.

“Yeah. It’s decorative. You can’t, uh, hunt with it.”

“How much?”

“$75.”

There was a pause, Alex held his breath, waiting for the inevitable tide of complaints. He would patiently explain about living expenses for artists and the scarcity of jobs and the cost of keeping a store open, culminating in the stranger setting the knife on the counter and leaving the store.

But, no, the guy had his wallet open already. He counted some bills and tossed four twenties onto the counter. Alex handed him his change and watched him leave, his hulking frame momentarily blocking the light from the door, throwing the store into relative darkness. He hadn’t asked for a bag or a receipt.

He left as Mr. Avery and Julia came back into the storefront, and Alex heaved a sigh.

“Who was that?” said Julia, leaning on the register.

Alex shrugged, feigning nonchalance, though his heart was pounding unaccountably, “Dunno. He said he was a hunter.”

“He buy anything?”

“Yeah, the silver knife. With the horn handle.”

She shrugged and went back into the gallery and Alex and Mike were left alone. Alex remembered what Boris had said to him that morning.

“Mr. Avery,” he said, a little louder than was necessary. He was still jumpy from the encounter with the stranger. “Did you see Boris?”

The older man’s brow furrowed, “Boris is back in town?”

“Uh, yeah. He said he wanted to talk to you. You didn’t see him?”

He shook his head, “You got his number?”

Alex hesitated, and realized he didn’t. Boris hadn’t had a cellphone when he’d left home. He surely had one now, but it hadn’t occurred to Alex to ask. He told Mr. Avery about the startup, and why his brother had come back,

“I think he’s staying for a couple more days, I’ll call you if he comes back to the store today. I’ll give him your number.”

But Boris did not come back to the store. At two thirty they decided it was time to close up. Julia offered Alex a ride home but it was clear out, and Alex preferred to walk.

***

Alex dragged his feet as the narrow road entered the woods, and allowed his face to contort into the frown he had been suppressing since that morning. The trees obscured sight and sound of the city and Alex was profoundly, peacefully alone. The misting rain had begun let up. It left a clinging fog on the ground and a sharp, wet smell in the air.

Something caught Alex’s eye, a splash of red in the filthy half-melted slush lining the side of the road, turning it into a pink slurry. This was the forest, animals fought and ate and died here, it wasn’t a shock to see a spatter of blood every once in a while. And another, a reddish smear clinging to the muddy bank that rose to Alex’s right. The forest itself began a few feet up it, a tangle of clinging vines and the trunks of trees obscuring his view after a few feet.

There was no path, no gap in the trees, but there were a couple of deep gouges leading into the underbrush, long and distorted, as though an animal had clawed its way up the bank. Alex saw no other signs of any struggle. There was no one on the road and if he stopped and listened carefully he could just hear the occasional car on the distant highway. He walked a few feet to where the bank dipped down, closer to the level of the road, and found a faint trail leading into the trees.

He stood for a minute, indecisive, and then climbed the bank. He followed the trail a ways in, scanning the ground, and headed back to his right, hoping to see more signs of whatever had left the blood. He didn’t know what he expected to find, the only dangerous animal around was the occasional bear, but the tracks, if that was even what they were, had been narrow and close together; whatever had left them was not a bear.

Alex walked a few more minutes, moving slowly on the uneven ground, careful not to slip in the sucking mud that caked the forest floor between patches of forest herbs. At first his eyes remained on the undergrowth but no spoor made itself apparent and his gaze wandered upwards. The sights and sounds and smells of the forest calmed him, as they had since he was a child.

He breathed in the scent of pine and muddy water, and something else, sharper, sour. He wrinkled his nose, looking around, his eye fell on a patch of wide green leaves with a few fleshy, wan-looking yellow flowers: skunk cabbage. Alex approached them, staying to the higher, drier ground at the edge of the patch, and the smell got stronger. It was sour, organic, a little greener than actual skunk, not altogether unpleasant. The flowers were strange, nearly the same color as the surrounding leaves, but cup shaped, with a nubbly stalk in the center. Most stood straight up, but some were bent to one side or lay flat, as though they had been trampled. The mud in the patch had been disturbed and off to one side was a little spatter of blood, half-folded into the marshy soil.

He found more tracks after that, and studied them more closely this time. They were sunk deep in the mud and ill-defined but he could see they were oblong and wider at the front, with long toes, though deformed by the mud. They were too big to be a raccoon or a fox, but maybe a big dog? Or a wolf? That gave Alex pause. He didn’t think there were wolves in the area, but he wasn’t completely sure. He wondered if he should turn back and tell someone, like animal control. His phone had no reception here, and for the first time since entering the woods he felt uneasy at the depth of his isolation. He stood still and strained and found he could not hear anything but the faint cries of distant birds and the dripping of water. He had gone in a fairly straight path and had a good head for landmarks, he thought he could still find his way back pretty easily.

Something made a noise behind him, the muffled snapping of a twig, a gentle splash a little more pronounced than the sounds of rain. Alex froze, sucking in a breath involuntarily. A nebulous fear came creeping in and he turned and started back the way he had come, his heart beating a little faster. It was getting hard to concentrate, to find features of the landscape he recognized. He slid in some mud and went down on one knee. He was breathing heavily now, and he could smell something now, a warm brownish tang that battered its way into his nose. The sounds of birds had ceased. Before he could identify the smell he saw its source: a body, rent apart and glaring obscenely red against the green and brown and gray of the forest.

It had once been a person, and recently too; it still wore a pair of dirty cargo pants and half a neon green jacket, and it was still steaming very slightly in the cold air, but it had no more identifying features. Its head and most of its torso was missing, and Alex could see viscera and white pieces of bone.

Alex was transfixed for a moment by the grisly scene, but the sound of something rustling, nearby, brought him back to his senses. He slid backward down the slope he’d been climbing and ran in the other direction, his breath coming in painful gasps, sliding in mud and clambering on hands and knees. He lost track of where he was going, clawing a new trail through thorns and hanging branches, unable to see for more than a few feet. He could hear nothing around him over the sound of his own feet, his ragged breath.

***

He awoke from a daze at the sound of a telephone ringing. He was sitting in one of a row of metal chairs along a wall, across from a desk where a female police officer sat talking on the phone. He looked down at his shoes, still soaked in water and coated in mud, they’d left smudges on the scuffed linoleum floor. He took a deep breath and held it. When he couldn’t hold it anymore he breathed out, counting to ten.

He could see “Saxman Police” emblazoned in reverse on the window behind the desk, above a shield backlit by the sun shining in through the window. There was a cup in his hand, it felt warm. He took a sip. Tea, long over-brewed. He got up and something fell off his back, a heavy plaid blanket. He looked at it for a second and then picked it up, wrapping it around his shoulders again.

He wandered until he found a kitchenette, passing by a few rooms, some with blinds covering the windows. He passed a few policemen, a few people in regular clothes. None of them seemed to mind him, though a couple gave him worried looks. He poured out the tea into a metal sink. He reached up to one of the wood laminate shelves and his hand stopped, he saw the clock. It was four pm. It had been two thirty when he’d left work.

Distantly he heard a door slam shut, and quick footsteps, a familiar voice, raised in anger. Boris appeared in the doorway. Alex dropped the cup into the sink and ran to his brother, again grateful for his mass, his solidness. Boris wrapped his arms around Alex as deep, gasping sobs rent their way out of his chest.

The next couple hours were a haze. A detective questioned him, asked how he’d found the body. He told them he’d been hiking, didn’t mention the blood trail and the strange tracks. With a sickening jolt he remembered the neon jacket the corpse had been wearing. He gave halting descriptions of the couple he’d given directions to. The detective exchanged a look with another officer. Boris peered at them, tight-lipped, his arms folded,

“Look, officers,” he snapped, “I know you want to catch whoever did this, but my brother has been through a lot today. I want to take him home so he can get some rest. If you have any more questions you can call me.”

Alex was bundled into the the car Boris had borrowed from their mother. Boris looked very tired, his expression closed off. Neither of them spoke during the drive home. With a start, he remembered the strange hunter had come into the shop that morning. He thought uneasily htat he should have told the police about him, but the thought of returning to the station filled him with dread. He’d call the station tomorrow. Now, though, he felt bone tired. He closed his eyes, pretended to sleep.

Their mother met them at the front door, white-faced with worry, and took Alex’s coat. He took a hot shower, changed clothes without speaking to anyone, and fell asleep curled on the couch in the near-darkness of the winter afternoon.

He awoke, once, to the voices of Boris and his mother, arguing in hushed tones. He lay still, rigid, and listened, staring into the dark, his eyes not yet adjusted to the gloom.

“-again, isn’t it?” said their mother, her voice low but steady.

“I didn’t want to-” the rest of Boris’ response was too low to be heard.

“But you did. You can’t just ignore it, hoping it will go away. It didn’t work for your father, it won’t work for you.”

“I know, I just-”

“I love you.”

“Mom-”

“I love you, Boris, but this can’t continue.”

“Mom, help me.”

“What am I supposed to do? What do you want me to do? I have Alex to think of.”

He heard someone sigh, and the scrape of a chair on the kitchen floor, and then silence.

***

When he woke again it was after eight. He didn’t have his watch on, he realized uncomfortably that he must have lost it in the woods. He stood up and stretched and peeked out the kitchen window. He could see a dark shape sitting on the table in the yard. Boris. Alex pulled on his parka and snowboots and crept outside. When he was a few feet away Boris turned,

“Alex. You’re awake.”

There was a flatness in Boris’ voice that made Alex uneasy. It was winter, and very dark. It was windy, clouds scudded overhead, throwing them into periods of relative light and darkness. In the chiaroscuro of orange streetlights Boris looked very small. His parka engulfed him, and his hands shook as he lit a cigarette. The flame quivered, went out, and he let his arms fall to his sides,

“I have to leave—”

“Don’t go,” Alex blurted out, “not again. I can’t-”

“I’m sorry about what happened, Alex,” his brother’s voice shook, “in the woods. I didn’t mean for you to see-” he faltered. Alex’s stomach lurched with the understanding.

“Boris,” he said, slowly. It seemed to Alex, knowing Boris, that a situation like this one had been inevitable. Alex felt fear but not surprise. He took a deep breath, coming to a decision,

“Boris,” he said again, “whatever you did-”

“No,” Boris stopped him, “don’t do that. Listen to what I have to say, first. I left Ketchikan to get away from you and mom,” he paused, “to protect you.”

“Then why did you come back?”

“I need you to do something for me. I can only trust you.”

He took something out of his pocket. In the ambient light of the moon and streetlamps Alex made out small pistol and magazine. He could see a bullet peeking out of the clip, gleaming silver-white in the gloom.

“Boris,” said Alex again, pulling back instinctively.

“I’m serious. I tried to do it myself, but-” his voice broke.

Alex felt sick. He stood up and his eyes flicked from the gun to Boris, who had stood up as well. He crossed the space between them in a few quick steps and put the gun in Alex’s hand. Alex backed away, the gun limp at his side.

A shot cracked through the frigid air. Alex saw Boris stagger backward out of the pool of light, go down on one knee, his left hand showing palely over his chest. Alex still held the pistol but it wasn’t pointed at Boris, his finger wasn’t on the trigger. Where had the shot come from? The moon and stars were obscured, again, they were plunged into darkness. He went towards his brother but Boris put a hand out,

Stop,”

His voice was loud, clearer than it should have been for someone with a shot in the chest, and it had a deep, resonant quality that jarred Alex. He stopped. Boris let out a strangled cry and went down on his hands and knees. Alex took a step forward anyways.

Once, when Alex was fifteen, he had seen a raccoon get run over by a car. He’d been standing at the side of the road, near enough to hear the bones break. The popping, rending sounds he heard now, coming from his only brother, reminded him of that. He felt a gripping panic that drained the blood from his extremities. His legs felt numb, he tried to step back, to turn and run, but his feet wouldn’t move. He could hear Boris moving, shifting, but couldn’t see more than an outline in the darkness.

He heard movement a little farther off, not from Boris but behind him, approaching footsteps crunching on gravel and frozen grass. He saw a flash, the curve reflective surface of a hunting knife showing luminous in the dark, above where Boris knelt. Instinctively he raised the gun, took aim at the gleaming silver streak and pulled the trigger. He heard a cry, unmistakably human, and the light shining on the blade winked out.

Where Boris had once been was a black outline, carved out of the dark of the forest. A single, jaundiced eye snapped into view and then out again and he could see movement in the black-on-blackness, the suggestion of a hulking silhouette with a muffled, furred outline. Alex stood rooted to the spot, the gun slipped from his hand,

“Don’t leave me—” he said.

The thing that had taken the place of his brother let out a low resonant rattling call and slipped away into the forest.

end




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2 Responses to “Snow”

  1. Ashley Mowat Says:

    Intriguing, captivating, entertaining, diverse and surprising. Ta

  2. Winners of the 2021 !Short Story Contest! | Defenestrationism.net Says:

    […] RUNNER-UPs:“Snow“by Eris Young&“Echo of Hollow Hooves“by Rachel Friedman […]

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