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Ashes in the Snow

Leaving dad in Lake George.

By Kelley SteadPublished 2 months ago Updated 2 months ago 10 min read
Image made with Dal.E 2

We drove up the snowy, winding road towards the cozy A-frame cabin. The snow was just beginning to fall again, swirling around my rented Honda, building on the windshield before getting swiped away. I looked over at dad, well, his urn, buckled almost humorously into the passenger's seat. Leaving him in the trunk or even the back seat seemed disrespectful. Dad always had to ride up front, directing whoever was driving, and making suggestions despite what the GPS said.

"These computers make mistakes," he'd say and point to his own temple. "This computer doesn't."

The GPS wasn't making any mistakes today. We drove past the fish restaurant we used to eat in, though it looked different covered in snow with Christmas lights hung on the porch. The cabin had been a summer retreat for us to escape the humid grips of Floridian July.

We never came here in the winter.

We continued along the road until the trees on the left side started to thin and I could see Lake George, frozen and barren, stretched out between the hills that I remembered as being green and luscious. There were people out on the ice with little tents, ice-fishing I assumed. Dad would have scoffed at that. He wasn't a winter guy.

The cabin was coated in powder but someone had carved out the driveway for me. Probably the realtor, making way for the guy who appraised it, or maybe the buyers. I couldn't even remember their names, there'd been so many potentials. I hadn't realized how valuable the cabin was, or even how much dad paid to have it maintained while we were gone. It felt like I wasn't even an adult until my dad died.

"Well, here we are,” I said. "Our little.... weekend getaway." I was in a daze, really. Nothing made sense. There was the same door we'd ran up to as kids. There was the old cedar bin that was supposed to hold firewood. There was the roof dad would set lawn chairs on for the fourth of July, letting my brother and I watch the fireworks over the lake.

Now, there was snow on top of all of it. Like ashes.

I sat in the car as long as I could, hesitating to go inside a place frozen in time. I'd hoped the realtor set up some staging, something to make it look like a stranger's home instead of what it was.

I unbuckled dad and cradled him in the crook of my arm, then threw my overnight bag over the other shoulder. I didn't wear my jacket, it was only a few steps, but the cold bit into my face and hands like a rabid dog and I shivered the whole way to the door.

My heart dropped when I walked inside. Nothing had changed. The wood paneling was still on the walls from the late 90's when dad had bought the place. Above the fireplace was the deer head he'd bought somewhere and called "Bambi" just to screw with us. Dad never hunted a day in his life but for some reason decided to decorate our summer home with serene paintings of game fowl and hunters trekking through woods with rifles at the ready. There was even a bear skin rug tacked to the master bedroom wall, fake of course. Mom would have never gone for real bear skin.

I sat dad down on the counter, hung up my jacket, and threw some branches in the little fireplace. Someone had left them there for me. Someone had dusted and mopped too.

I didn't quite know how to use the fireplace but I lit the branches with a lighter I found on the mantle and poked the stack until it seemed stable enough to stay burning. I warmed my hands over it until I had feeling in them again, staring at the flames in a half-waking state.

It was all so weird.

I went out to the back porch, where the sun was just about done setting. It was cold as hell but I didn't put my jacket on. I let the cold numb me. I let my eyes wander over the woods behind the cabin, evergreens with snow painted on their branches, where we used to run and play football in the summer. What happened to the grass in winter, I wondered. Did it stay under the snow? Or did it die?

I didn't know exactly where I was going to spread dad's ashes, or even if I would. Mom had told me it's what he wanted, but the thought of dumping the urn seemed wrong-- like I was dumping my dad out of existence, spread to the cold winds of winter.

I wanted to put him in the Gulf of Mexico. It seemed more right, more warm, and alive. But the closing was next week, and I had to clean the place out anyway. Mom hadn't let up about it.

When the sun finally sank below the hills and my body had taken all the cold it could handle, I went back inside. The fire was still burning. Dad was still on the counter. But the fridge was wide open.

I remembered closing it. Didn't I? I couldn't remember. I shut it and peered into the bedrooms, half-looking for an intruder, but ultimately knowing I wouldn't find one. I'd left the fridge open.

I was losing it.

Work would help, I knew. The quicker I got this stuff packed up, the faster I could get back home. I could be done with the cabin and move on with my life. Out of sight, out of mind-- and all that.

The master bedroom seemed a good place to start so I wandered in there and opened the top drawer of the dresser. Dad's underwear lay neatly folded in a pile. His swim trunks were tucked in next to them, the pink and blue flamingo ones I'd gotten him for his birthday. They were just sitting there, waiting for him to take a dip in the lake while we jumped off his shoulders like a human diving board.

Nope. Too much.

I closed the drawer and dropped to my knees, holding my head in my hands and crying the way dad always told me big girls didn't. My tears were warm at least, dripping down my chin onto my palms. My shoulders heaved and my stomach cramped. It was visceral and strange, more than I had even cried during the funeral.

Something shook me out of it, a sound at the door, a knock.

"Coming!" I shouted and wiped the snot out of my nose with the back of my hand. I checked the vanity mirror, saw that my eyes were still red, and realized I didn't care anyway. But when I opened the door, it was just snow that greeted me. Falling snow.

I really was losing it.

I pulled my boots and jacket on and went outside. My own sanity depended on it. There was only one set of footprints up to the house, and they tracked right from the car.

That should have been enough, but it wasn't.

I walked around the side of the house and the automatic lights came on, illuminating a stack of firewood and garbage cans, but nothing else. The backyard was empty too. And the other side of the cabin. Not even a sound. The snow absorbed everything.

Satisfied (that no one was there, not that I was sane), I re-entered the house and double-locked the door. I was breathing a little too hard as I peeled my layers off.

"Alright, Holly," I said to myself. "Get it together now."

I decided I couldn't do the master bedroom tonight. Some things were meant for the daylight. Instead, I grabbed a trash bag and started packing things from the kitchen. There wasn't much and none of it was personal. Sugar packets, napkins from the local pizza joint, some cans of black beans. It took five minutes to pack the kitchen.

I felt accomplished.

"Kitchen, done," I said to dad and felt a little better about the whole situation. I even put on some music, modern stuff, nothing that would remind me of old times, and danced around. I fed more wood into the fire and started taking down the art from the walls. Even ol' Bambi found his way into a box, and without a tear. I was getting somewhere.

But then, over the music, clear as day, I heard a knock.

I even paused for a minute, listening, and heard another. I ran to the kitchen window and looked out into the frosty night. No tracks. No figure standing at the door. Not even a shadow.

"What is happening?" I whispered to myself, turning off the music so I could listen to the house. Maybe someone was messing with me-- kids playing knock on the crazy lady's door and ditch.

No, there would have been tracks. There would have been giggles.

"Dad, I'm losing my mind," I said, quietly, as if someone else was listening.

Then, as if to confirm my suspicions, something fell in the master bedroom. It made a thump as it hit the floor. I screamed, jumped back against the counter, and scraped my back against the handle of the drawer. I couldn't hear over the blood rushing in my ears. Every hair on my body rose up to fight, or run.

And run is what I did.

I didn't grab my boots or my jacket, just my car keys, and ran outside. Night snow is different than day snow, it cuts deeper without the sunlight to dull it. My breath caught as soon as it hit me but I only had to make it to my car, so I kept going.

My car was cold, but not the biting cold of outside. I turned it on and sat for a moment, catching my breath and trying to calm myself. Maybe it was just the drawer in the bedroom that fell. Hadn't I closed it, though?

I couldn't remember now. I couldn't remember anything. I watched the bedroom window for a shadow, any sign of movement. There wasn't any. Nothing in the kitchen, either.

Dad was in there.

I started to cry again. Not for any reason besides maybe the adrenaline coursing through me. Not a sobbing, hurting cry. Just tears leaking, dried instantly by the stream of heat from the vents. I thought for a moment about calling the police-- but my phone was inside. And there were no tracks.

There are no tracks. That means there's no one in there, Holly. Anything that could possibly hurt you would leave tracks.

Rationalizing was good. Dad always believed in rational thinking.

After a while, it was only the uncomfortable reality that I had to go back into the cold that kept me in the car. I came to terms with the fact that yes, staying by myself in the cabin was making my brain flip. No, I hadn't closed the drawer, just like I hadn't closed the fridge. I was grieving. I wasn't in a good space.

But none of that meant someone was stalking me.

I finally braved the cold and ran into the house, my socks sopping wet. I literally wouldn't have felt if someone ran them over.

As soon as I’d settled, there was another knock. Louder this time. It shocked me just as much as before, but I didn’t run. I walked, slowly, and grabbed one of the larger branches from the wood pile, as if I had to courage to use it on someone's head.

I didn’t check the window, I went straight for the door and yanked it open. No chance to run this time.

But as the door creaked open and the cold hit my face, I saw him.

It wasn’t really him, of course. He was in an urn on the counter. The snow was falling in front of my face but the flakes gathered and clung together in the shape of a man, like a constellation.

I blinked my eyes but I still saw him, there, but not there. Like a dream.

“Dad,” I said, choked.

The shape raised one arm, as if pointing to his head. This computer doesn't make mistakes.

And then there was a gust of winter wind and it scattered the snowflakes in every direction. Dad went with them, leaving only the formless, drifting powder, and the Honda in the driveway.

Just ashes in the snow.


About the Creator

Kelley Stead

Grew up on a steady diet of Anne McCaffrey and Stephen King.

Published in DreamForge Magazine.

A mixture of fiction and insights from the perspective of a writer, business owner, and casino person.

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Comments (3)

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  • Donna Renee2 months ago

    We had similar ideas for this one! I loved how your story ended :)

  • Jess Lee2 months ago

    Beautifully written fiction story, something about the character's palpable emotions in a cabin with memories around every corner makes it feel so real.

  • Jason Basaraba2 months ago

    Very beautiful.

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