Original Short Story by: Zack Ryan Hamilton
Robert sat reading in a comfortable chair close to his tainted, beautiful wooden fireplace. The light of the flame flickered around the room, making the outside look cold and forbidden. Wind howled against the window as the snow pushed against it.
Goddamn winter, he thought.
As the night continued on, his eyelids grew heavier and heavier. The book became harder to read. He finally gave a satisfactory grumble, and trotted off to bed. The wind howled outside the whole time.
He stared up at the ceiling in his bed. Reminisced about times since gone, things he could have fixed. Tears built in his eyes as he watched the images project onto the ceiling. Images of love and immunity flashed. He wished he could close his eyes a final time. He kept whispering 'this is it, this is it' until finally his eyes closed and he slept.
A muffled thud rang out. His eyes shot open.
What in the hell was that?
He quickly grabbed his robe, and lazily sleepwalked his way to the front door. He didn't see the double-barrel shotgun over his fireplace as a decoration anymore. He reached for it and loaded it.
The front door flew open amidst the powerful winds as he turned the knob. He squinted his eyes through the blizzard and through the cold and shouted. Nothing. Something wasn’t right.
Robert slowly shuffled out of his cabin, the shotgun gripped between his fingers. He started around the cabin slowly. The wind seemed to whip him to speed up, but he was persistent. His legs took careful steps in the snow. Oncoming footprints appeared in the snow, straight toward his cabin.
"This sumbitch is mine," he said.
And he knew he'd end a life today. No more regrets.
He followed the tracks around to a small covering over a window. It was pitch black.
"You come out right now."
Nothing moved. The wind still howled. The forest began to lumber over top of the night sky.
"I will shoot you, you sumbitch. You come out right now!"
Finally the figure began to move. The shadow raised its hands, only to return them quickly because of the cold.
"Please, I have no house." The old man's eyes widened. It was only a boy. "Please sir, I have no house."
Robert looked down the iron sight of the shotgun still.
I knew trouble was out here. Always is. Now you gone and run things up for me. I told myself that I would end the trouble tonight.
The boy looked at him with half-beaten eyes. He tried to say something, but the only sound Robert heard was the sound of a scared little boy. Someone with no hope left. But he told himself in his head he couldn't give up; he had to do something he wouldn't regret. Until it hit him. This boy is the change he was looking for. He could finally appreciate helping someone, letting them grow up, and becoming a man. This was his chance. He spoke, and nodded along with the shotgun.
"How old are ya?"
"I'm 14, sir. You?"
"67. And not a day older'en that. Come on in, boy. I have a good feeling bout' you."
Robert led the boy in. He was filthy in the light. His face smothered in dirt, knee's redder then the devil. Robert began to feel better; like he was the savior this time. The old man motioned toward a chair close to the fire, and they both sat amongst the flickering light. Robert returned the shotgun to the mantel.
"Whats yer name?" The boy sat focused on the fire, and finally looked up.
"Where are your parents, Adam?"
"My mum and pa, both of em' were dead a long time ago."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
They both sat, listening to the fire crack over and over again. Adam sat up after a moment's pause.
"Why do you live out here?"
"Cause it lets me get away from the bullshit back in the city. Back in "them life" Adam eased back. He knew it wasn't an appropriate question. They sat by the fire a long time.
Robert showed Adam the guest room. The boy nodded, and closed the door. The old man returned back to his room, comfortable. He smiled to himself. He smiled about helping someone. He smiled about a future for the boy. He smiled to himself again and again until he was too tired to continue. This was going to be the best sleep he's ever had.
Morning arrived and Robert sat up. The wind stopped. The night turned to a crisp morning. He smiled to himself again. This is what he needed.
He walked down the long hall of rooms before reaching the kitchen. Nothing had been moved. The ticking of a clock in the background. No one was up for breakfast. The boy must be hungry, he thought. He started out of the kitchen before noticing a small mud track on the floor. The boy was never in the kitchen last night. He looked up and around, hearing the silence screaming at him. No food had been moved. No crumbs on the counter. Only the infection of the small mud track. Robert began toward Adam's room. It was still locked. He knocked and called for him, but nothing answered. Maybe the boy was still asleep, and merely woke up for a snack? The old man was still curious. He continued down to his room, found the door key, and unlocked it.
The bed was perfectly made, as if no one had even slept in it. Robert's heart began to thump in his chest. This could not have been a dream. His fear brought his thoughts back on the shotgun again. He turned and thundered toward the mantel, only to discover that it was gone. Instead, a note had been nailed in its place.
Robert slowly unfolded the note, removing an old Polaroid picture first.
'I win, dad. You forgot about me'. The picture showed Robert's wife crying in their basement. He looked up slowly at the mantel. He remembered everything. His anger, the custody battles. His love becoming obsession, his immunity becoming weakness. He remembered how he hid away the two people he loved most in the darkest reaches of the house. The screaming and crying became fainter with each day. Only to finally become crying and shuffling. The unbreakable lock to the basement becoming comfort to him. Robert smiled at himself still. This is what he needed.
He began to turn around, only to hear the click of the shotgun behind him.
"No regrets, right dad?"
The wind howled as a beat was heard from the cabin. The forest lumbered over, hushing the noise.
The smile was frozen on Robert's face.