Tuesday, February 5, 2013 1:53 PM By crosswaysnet , In

Writer's Digest Short Story Contest Entry, 2013

The man froze in his tracks. His weren’t the only ones pressed into the fresh fall of snow. A scuffling trail of sneakers - a child’s sized 7 - led from his front door, between his own, turning left down the sidewalk.

He panicked, dropping the shopping bag, splitting the milk jug and soaking the newspaper and paper bag of fresh-ground coffee. The cherry twizzler hung limp from his lips, an indecisive weathervane in the still air.

He glanced furtively up the converging lines of rounded footfalls. New snow already softened their outline. They’d be gone soon and the trail lost. The man grabbed up the shopping bag and rushed through the thick crust of the front yard to the trashcan on the left of the house. He dumped the gushing funnel of milk and sodden newsprint inside and reached for the snow shovel - not the metal one. Too loud. The large plastic scoop wouldn’t clatter in the soft blanket.

The man started at the open front door, closing it and jostling the wreath. The bell let out a short ring. He pushed the shovel silently and swiftly down the walkway, careful to lift all marks. He turned left to follow his little Hansel, plowing as he went, trying to keep the line straight and unassuming. The path turned where he expected, left again, down a block and across the intersection. There was no time. He leaned the shovel on the dead elm at the corner and ran as fast as his oversized snow boots allowed. The little flakes of snow turned to mini daggers on his cheeks as pushed through them.

Where was the boy? Was he about to lose him for good? His damaged lungs began to burn, slowing his pace. Two more blocks and he caught a glimpse of the boy stepping from dim shadow of one tree to the next. Two blocks away. The man looked wildly around - there was still no one else on the street. The sensory blanket and dull light still held the neighborhood in thrall. Good, he thought...

He was gaining on the boy. He’d make it in time. He calmed down and rushed faster. Then he seized up and stopped abruptly. Someone approached the boy from the opposite direction, cutting across the yards in arcs and plumes of snow. The postman.

A different kind of ice hit the man’s spine. Sure enough, the postman stopped, approached the boy and knelt down.  The man stayed frozen in shadow. After a moment the boy pulled back and continued on his way. The postman finished his loop to the next door.

Without any abrupt moves, the man turned around and plodded back the direction from which he’d come, forming his plan. He crossed to the opposite side of his own street and doubled back his own tracks from the convenience store. By the time he entered his house his plan was set.

The man was used to waiting. The ice in his veins was of his own making this time. Finally the sound of boots stomped up his steps and the lid to his mailbox lifted. He moved to the door and opened it with a grin...

In the end it wasn’t so hard. The invitation inside and presentation of the Christmas scotch was all it took. How fortunate the man was practically a body double - same age, hair color, even height. The postman’s uniform fit a bit clumsily on his frame but hardly noticeable under the parka.

He continued the postman’s route, faithfully delivering every package, holiday card, flyer and bill. The contents of his safe remained tucked at the bottom of the delivery bag. He carried it lightly, not indicating the weight in coins and guns. The photos didn’t weigh much.

He returned to the postal van as the explosion cracked windows three blocks behind him. It wouldn’t completely consume the old brownstone, but the gas line ran directly under his bedroom. There wouldn’t be anything identifiable remaining of the postman in plaid pajamas. The note left on the living room credenza was a nice touch, he thought. The mea culpa and feigned remorse would be just what his parole officer needed. At the other end of the house, it would probably survive the blast and fire.

He ditched the truck at a swollen river’s icy bank, the krugerrands and unregistered glock tucked in his jacket. And the pictures... The scotch bottle with the postman’s prints he thoughtfully tossed thoughtlessly in the back before the river sucked it all away.


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