The End of the Path
|Ghost Story |Christmas |Snow
So, I took this photo last week, liked it and made a vague sort of promise to possibly do something with it. This is the end result. Not a horror, just a little ghost story to help get you into the festive spirit. I hope you enjoy.
The End of the Path
The snow lay deep and heavy underfoot. The storm had taken Isaac by surprise. There had been a few flakes and a definite chill as he set out, but the suddenness and ferocity of the subsequent snowfall had been totally unexpected.
He fought back an irrational thrill of fear. His house was a mere two streets away; no need for the rush of panic or the sense of isolation. Funny how the weather affected the senses, he mused, putting his uneasiness down to the sudden stillness of the park, the muted affect the snow had upon the way sound travelled and the apparent emptiness of the place. He was obviously the only one foolhardy enough to venture out.
He tried to recall if it had been in the forecast, but found he couldn’t remember. Obviously other folk had been better prepared or more well-informed, because as he turned onto what he judged to be his usual route, a pathway flanked on either side by trees and bushes of varying height and density, he saw that he was truly alone.
There was none of the usual flurry of birds; none of their busy chatter or shrill cries of warning. No rush of bushy squirrel tails as they flew up the trunks of trees and fled sure-footedly along boughs and branches in a rush to escape his approach. There was not even an assured, expectant little robin bouncing about around him in hopes of food.
Absolute stillness; even the wind had stopped its sighing moans. Isaac shivered, digging his hands deeper into his pockets. Frozen; that was the word that came to mind as he stood and surveyed the path ahead of him. Frozen, in more ways than one.
The snow was doing a great job of obscuring the landscape, eroding borders and kerbs as if deliberately trying to send him wayward. He blinked away some still-falling snowflakes and stopped for a moment, considering. Regardless of how close he was to home, it might not be such a bad idea to turn back.
No sooner had he made the decision to do so than there came a loud crack from behind him. He jumped, startled, turning to find that a large, thick bough had given way under the sudden weight of snow and snapped from its tree. It lay splayed across the path behind him, sharp branches reaching up as if asking him for assistance. The thought of negotiating it to get back onto the path the other side was not one he relished. He pushed aside a second thought that came hard on its heels – that it was only a moment ago he had passed by under that branch, that he could very well be pinned under it now – and released a shaky sigh. That was that then. He had no option but to go on.
As if to confirm he had made the right choice, a second bough, higher up and slightly larger than the first, also came crashing down, on the far side of the already fallen limb. It appeared for a moment that a flurry of snow was falling upwards as flakes bounced on impact, showering Isaac with icy droplets. Shaken, feeling all at once vulnerable beneath the canopy of surrounding trees, he turned and moved on, eager to be away from the place.
The snow began to ease as he trudged onwards, finally coming to a stop when he was still a good few yards from the end of the path. There was a familiar figure there; one he knew well and often discreetly gave a passing nod to, for his own amusement. The metal figure of a boy, one of the many statues that graced the park depicting the history of the place. They were life-size cut outs, in places their frames see through where details and decorations had been sculpted out of the metal.
Now, the child was thigh deep in snow and looking back at him with a shining, glossy stare. The presence of the statue did not offer its usual comfort and familiarity. Isaac stopped in his tracks at its apparent movement. His heart pounding, he knew he must be imagining things, yet for all the world he would have sworn the figure moved a fraction at his approach.
He chided himself. The most likely explanation was probably the real explanation. The fact was, he had probably caught some movement from beyond the statue – perhaps snow falling from a laden branch, or the weak sun that had made an appearance lighting it in an odd way – that had made it look like movement.
“Get a grip, Isaac!” he muttered, spurring himself onward.
Yet he found that as he walked, he could not take his eye off the figure of the boy. He dared not. He tried telling himself that he would laugh at this later, when he was safe at home, with the curtains pulled and the fire blazing. It was false; a hollow promise. He could not deny his instincts entirely, only suppress them.
He had almost reached the statue. He half-expected it to take a step towards him, or reach out a cold metallic hand. Nothing happened, and he laughed in relief and at himself for being so ridiculous.
It was only as he turned from the path, to begin the walk down the breast of the hill it gave onto, that he saw it.
In the deep snow, alongside his large, unmistakable footprints, there was second, much smaller set. A clear trail of footprints, that could only belong to a child…
S P Oldham