The wind howled through the cobblestone lane, tumbling and wheeling the leaves in its furious path. Branches bowed and swayed as the creaking trees buckled in the gale with a hollow ululation, lamenting the loss of their copious red, yellow and orange ornaments.
Winter blew through fall like dandelions in a soft summer breeze. A biting chill settled over the lane and frost glimmered on the windowpane. The sky, once clear and bright, was now a thick marshmallow of cloud.
I pulled my coat tight around me and trudged up the lane towards the sleepy little town. I hoped to be home before the snow fell, but as soon as I stepped through the door of the grocer’s shop, the wailing wind splattered flurries onto the windowpanes.
“We’ll have a harsh one tonight,” the old grocer greeted me, “you’re just in time, I was about to close the shop.”
“I’ll only be a minute, Mr. Gent,” I mumbled and rushed through the aisles.
When I reached the cashier, through the windows I glimpsed big fat snowflakes falling in a frantic and whimsical dance.
Mr. Gent rang up my purchases and asked if I needed anything else.
“Some firewood, please,” I replied.
He nodded, “We have little left, it’ll take a moment to get it.”
Then he turned around and opened a door marked ‘Private’.
Mr. Gent, though amiable and kind, was not a trusting man. He’d manned the shop for too long and knew too well the trickery of petty thieves. He’d often grumbled about losing his faith in humankind over cents of a dollar.
Mr. Gent returned with the bundle of firewood.
“I threw in some kindling,” he said as he clicked and clacked on the register, “no charge, you’ll need it. My arthritis is acting up, it’ll be a cold one.”
“Thank you,” I smiled.
“Watch yourself, storms like this one bring out the Devil,” he said.
“Oh, you don’t believe that old legend,” I teased.
“Don’t I?” He huffed, though a playful wink flashed in his eye, “I was there. Saw the footprints m’self. And don’t forget what happened to Pete Garrett.”
“Pete Garrett? Ol’ Pete, up the road?” I asked, “What happened to him?”
“He vanished for months. Said he got lost in the blizzard. Wandered around for a few hours, he said, but we all know he appeared the next summer, still wearing his winter coat and trailing snowflakes with his boots… in July! It was hot as the gates of Hell and he stood in the middle of the street, looking like he’d just walked out of an igloo.”
I smirked and wished him good night.
“Be safe, young man, Devil walks tonight!” He called after me as I shut the door and stepped into the heavy storm.
Snow swirled around me as I tucked my paper grocery bag under one arm and my bundle of firewood under the other.
Snowflakes fell on my eyelashes; I blinked hard and bowed my head as I trudged through the icy lane, the wind whipping and biting at my ears.
The buildings on either side of the lane faded into white, and I soon found myself engulfed in a blind whiteout world where sight was useless and sound muffled.
My heart pounded in my chest as I recalled Mr. Gent’s story about Ol’ Pete, but I steadied myself and slogged onwards. Even the swish-swish of my footfalls on the snow disappeared amid the gusting wind.
“Oh, thank God!” I breathed when I reached my gate with its ornate lotus flower spikes. Through the whirling snow, I glimpsed the faint silhouette of my weathervane, spinning like a wild top.
Lightning flashed down in snarls of light, as the wind booed at the windowpanes. But inside, with the fire blazing and a good book, I felt no danger.
“Devil, my ass,” I sneered as I closed the book and prepared for bed.
Sunlight burst into my room the next morning, white and blinding. I yawned, stretched, put on my warm slippers and padded to the window.
A trail of footprints meandered through my tiny garden; the fat, hoof-like footprints of a creature that undeniably walked upright.