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Fantasy

There are a lot of ways to spend a carefree winter Saturday. A hot drink and a good book, friends and a movie, or solo binge-watching the classics are among my top five. But on that morning, when I woke up to see the world covered in a blanket of white for the first time this season, none of these usual favourites were going to cut it for me.


In the grey midmorning light, I threw my hair into a bun and bundled up for the cold temperatures outside. Even in my cozy apartment, I could feel the cold seeping in from outside through the old window and pulled my wool coat tighter around me as I quickly zipped up and shoved my feet into my boots.


There was something about the first snowfall - something a little bit magical. It was as if Jack Frost himself had grabbed my hand and was pulling me out, out, out of my warm little home and into the wonder of this snowy, crystalline world he was making. Crafting it just for me, I was sure.


I rode the elevator down to ground level, willing it to go faster but certain that if it did the whole rickety thing would crash into the basement of the building. My foot was out of the small space the second that the doors creaked open, and I was out in that beautiful snow in the blink of an eye. The drifts were thick under my feet, fluffy and so soft even the usual crunch of my boots as I walked was silent. That didn’t stop me from turning my face up to catch the flakes as they drifted down, spinning through the falling snow, trying to catch the tiny crystals on my tongue.


The streets were strangely empty, but even if they hadn’t been I wouldn’t have cared. The smell, the feel, the sound of freshly fallen snow - there was nothing better.


The air was cold and sharp on my cheeks and nose, and flakes of snow gathered in my hair and on my lashes. I brushed my mitten over my face and kept dancing down the sidewalk, living out the ballerina daydreams I had long given up as a child. I flitted past my favourite coffee shop, noticing from the corner of my eye that the usual bustle of humanity was absent. The shop lights were on but the tables were empty and the storefront was quiet.


A strange feeling passed through me, but it went almost as quickly as it came and I didn’t give it a second thought until I slowed to a walk. I came to an intersection, usually hectic and busy, but today it was empty, like the coffee shop. Slowing to a complete stop at the corner of 102 Street and 103 Avenue - the near total silence seemed to wrap itself around me more tightly than the typical city sounds ever had.


I turned and searched up and down the streets, looking for headlights or people or even a stray cat. There was nothing. Crossing the street to one of the shop doors, I could see lights on inside and I thought I spotted movement within. I burst through the door, calling out, but there was no answer. Something inside of me stirred and anxiety began to build. I moved to pick up an old landline phone that was sitting by the cash register, but my hand went right through it as I tried to grasp it. I reached again, my mind whirring with disbelief at what I was seeing, sure that it couldn’t possibly be real. Twice more, my hand came back empty.


Once again, I called for someone, sure they must be in the back or on a lunch break. There was no answer. I searched the store for a clock to see the time. Perhaps the store had closed early and they had just forgotten to lock up?


Scanning the room, my eye caught on an aged yellow clock hanging above the entryway and I blinked quickly several times, shook my head, and stared. The hands on the clock were spinning wildly in different directions. Suddenly, they would come to a halt and go back in the other direction. It almost looked like they were going to come right off of the clock face.


‘I’m dreaming,’ I muttered to myself. ‘This is all just a strange dream and I’m going to wake up any second.’


The panic was rising in me; I could feel that familiar ball of anxiety in my gut growing larger and larger. With everything I could muster, I shoved it back down and ran out of the shop. My thoughts were all over the place and nothing made any sense. I tried to piece together what I was seeing and experiencing, but the frail threads of sense and logic that I could weave together soon frayed at the edges and it all fell apart again.


Certain that something would come to my mind at any minute to make sense of all this, I hurried down the sidewalk. I checked in the window of every building I passed, opening doors and calling out for someone - anyone - to answer me.


Finally, I saw someone up ahead. I almost cried with the relief that filled every crevice of my being. I ran now, moving as quickly as I could while trying to be mindful of the slippery ice crystals beneath my steps.


‘Hey!’ I called out, noticing for a second that my voice seemed to fall flat, as if it were weighted down by some invisible force. ‘Hey, wait!’ I was nearly on top of the person, an elderly woman with a sad face and an empty gaze. Once she was within reach, I stretched out my hand to touch her arm. Again, my fingers seemed to go right through her, like they had through the telephone earlier.


The woman didn’t even pause, just kept moving along at a slow but steady clip. I called out over and over, tried to follow her, but as she moved further away from me I saw something that made my heart drop into my toes.


Footprints. There were no footprints.


I could see the snow collecting on her boots as she walked, could see how she parted it as she moved. Yet, somehow, behind her there was no sign of any kind of disturbance. As if she hadn’t even been there. Not a single flake of snow was out of place, not a single footprint was left behind. When I looked up again, she was still walking, fading little by little into the falling snow. Before I knew it, she had disappeared and there was not the smallest indication that she had even been there.


How could this be possible? I must have been seeing things.


A good way to try to test what I believed I was seeing was to watch my own movements, so I looked down at my boots and took several steps. The snow parted around my feet, falling away to the sides as I shuffled forward. I nodded my head, relieved. But would my footprints disappear?


Next, with a deep breath, I bent my knees and leapt ahead.


As certain as I was of what I would see when I looked behind me, I was far more shocked when I realized that what I was seeing was…nothing.


Well, not quite nothing. There was snow behind me, but it was spotless, as if I hadn’t just been standing there. It was perfectly flat, perfectly white, impossibly perfect. My heart racing and hands shaking from more than just the cold, I took two steps backward. I could feel my eyes widening and my breath caught in my throat, unable to inhale or exhale.


As I stepped back, the snow moved as I would have expected it to but when it settled, it seemed to just fall back exactly as it had been before I had moved away. Once again, it was smooth and perfectly flat.


The wind knocked out of me, I hit the ground, hard.


Impossible. This was impossible.


It was like I was trapped in some kind of bizarre alternate reality where I simply…didn’t exist. No one existed. It was as if the world had become empty, just completely empty of all life. There was no sound, no movement except for the falling snow, no other being, human or otherwise, in sight but myself.


I closed my eyes, listening, waiting, trying to understand.


Was it a dream I was about to wake up from or some strange new reality I had been thrust into?


Was there something that I was supposed to do to bring some sort of sense to all of this?


As my thoughts raced, the silence that surrounded was no longer welcoming but it seemed to crash through my ears like wild horses. It wrapped itself around me, like a boa constrictor, tightening with every exhalation I took. I felt suffocated, strangled by this silence that I could not escape.


With desperation, I screamed. At the top of my lungs, I screamed as loudly and long as I could. Abruptly, I closed my mouth and waited, listening. What was I expecting in this world with no footprints, no sounds, no life? Not even an echo came back to me. The sound just fell flat again, like an anchor was chained about it and dragged it down as soon as it left my lips.


Frustration mounting, I jumped to my feet and ran. There was no thought as to where I was going or what I hoped to find. I just ran and ran, pumping my legs and arms as hard as I could. My lungs burned as if they were on fire; taking in the sharp cold air was like swallowing frozen spikes, but I kept going.


At last, when the muscles in my legs begged for a pause and my lungs could no longer sustain my mad dash to nowhere, I slowly came to a halt. I wasn’t sure how far I had run or for how long, and still there were no footsteps to mark my path. I looked around as I breathed heavily, wondering if there would be anyone around this time, but the streets were still empty.


I was trying to determine where I had ended up. There was an old church across the street with a cemetery behind it. Small houses, probably post-WWII, lined the street on both sides, and there were mature trees along the sidewalk. I wasn’t sure I was even still in my own city…something about it seemed familiar but I couldn’t be certain. Brushing my hair out of my face, I felt a pull deep within me to go into the old church, and with nothing else to do I found myself crossing the street.


The large doors swung open easily enough, as if the hinges had been recently greased. A shaft of sunlight pierced the gloom for a moment, lighting up a beautiful stained glass window perched a the top of the door. It was round and depicted a man in a white robe with flowing brown hair smiling down at a little child that sat at his knee. The window was in pristine condition and I noticed that the building itself had obviously been well maintained. Someone, or a bunch of someone’s, put a lot of work into the old church.


Deciding to follow through and see what was on the inside, I stepped through the door and into a small entryway. Strange familiarity washed over me, but the memory evaded my grasp. Up the few stairs, I entered the sanctuary and for the first time since the elderly woman had passed me on the street, I saw signs of life. Each pew had a single white rose framed with sprigs of greenery tied gently to the end with twine. There was a table in the front with a basket of crimson roses and beside the table, on a trifold stand, was a covered photograph.


I ran my hand over the roses on the pews as I walked up, knowing that as soon as my hand passed over, it would be as if I hadn’t even been there. I was slowly realizing that while I existed in this strange world, I didn’t really. I was here, but I wasn’t. I had no idea how to get back home, but I turned my mind to the pretty, antique sanctuary and away from the questions that filled my mind.


When I made it up to the front of the sanctuary, I stood before the photo on the stand and wondered if I’d be able to pull the cover off of it. I was curious to know what was on the photo, what the church was being decorated for. I reached out for the edge of the cloth, and it felt like nothing between my fingers. I pinched them together and tugged very slightly, and the cloth moved a bit down the frame.


With a harder tug the second time, the cloth came sliding off of the frame entirely, pooling at my feet on the carpeted floor. When my eyes registered what I was looking at as I stared at the picture in the frame in front of me, I didn’t know quite what to think. Confusion wrapped around my mind, followed by recognition, and then intense fear.


I felt myself freeze, as if paralyzed where I stood.


‘Impossible,’ I whispered. And yet, there it was.


Me.


The photo in the frame at the front of the church was me.


I remembered this photo. I remembered that weekend in the mountains, the long hike to the canyon and the triumph after a particularly challenging climb. The feeling of victory, of having conquered the trail, had filled me. Even now, I could still close my eyes and remember how the afternoon sun had danced across the rushing river that wound through the trees below.


I wasn’t closing my eyes right now, though. No, I was filled with a hurricane of thoughts that I couldn’t collect and emotions that were whisking me off on a wild ride I was powerless to stop. The questions that filled my mind increased exponentially with each moment, but the answers were nowhere to be found.


With a cry, I fell to the floor, tucking my head between my knees and clenching my jaw as I often did when stress and anxiety overwhelmed me. I wondered if this was some kind of sick joke but I knew deep down that that couldn’t be true. This was all very, very real.


Suddenly, the church door swung open, and the elderly woman I had seen before came shuffling in. I was sobbing there on the floor, on the brink of losing whatever was left of my sanity. She came up to the front of the church and sat down beside me, soundlessly. I wasn’t sure what to make of what was happening and I had no idea if I should speak or wait, so I waited, my sobs calming. After a few minutes, a wrinkled hand reached over and grasped my shaking fingers.


‘It’s gets easier,’ she said, and I looked over at her.


‘What does?’ Once the words left my lips I wasn’t sure if I wanted to hear the answer, but it was too late to take it back now.


A short, heavy pause. ’Death.’ She smiled then, her eyes no longer vacant, her wrinkles moving easily into the smile as if they had had years of practice. ‘It gets easier.’


Just like that, without warning, we were gone. No longer in the old church, or in my home, or anywhere else. We seemed to be travelling through some place in between, both nowhere and everywhere.


A place without footprints, or sounds, or life.

January 11, 2020 04:38

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