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Thundersnow

By , Des Plaines, IL
The storm began on a crisp, clear day in January. Skies were blue one minute, and the next, with a cacophonous clap of thunder, gray clouds rolled overhead, blotting out the sun and hurling down a swirling torrent of white ash through the streets of Mirror Point. The proud majesty of the skies toppled in an instant.

The storm had been raging for a few hours when a tall man stepped off the train station platform. He was dressed in a long, black coat and his face was obscured by a red scarf. Perched atop his crooked nose was a pair of round, wire-framed spectacles. He carried a small briefcase. The man strode across the street and set off at a brisk pace, shielding his face against the buffeting winds. He stopped at a shabby looking motel, all peeling paint and neon lights. The man pushed the door open and walked inside, lowering his scarf. He walked up to the clerk.

“I’m looking to stay for a night.” His voice was soft, as if it pained him to talk.

“That’ll be seven fifty, then,” said the clerk in a bored drawl.
The man paid and got his key. He trudged slowly up the dimly lit stairs, the thunder foreboding in the distance. He found his room and fumbled with the key. He unlocked the door and went inside. He stood awhile in the doorway, sweeping the room. It was small, furnished with a dusty carpet and cheap, contemporary paintings. He walked to the bed and sat down. He sat for a while, staring at the wall. Then he set his briefcase on the bed, and took out a .45 caliber Colt handgun, fitted with a suppressor. He knelt down beside the bed and shoved the pistol under the mattress. The he set the alarm for midnight and switched off the light.

The alarm was louder than he had expected. It shattered the comfort of his dreamless sleep. He sat up and fumbled with the shrieking clock. Finally he pulled the plug from the socket and sat staring at the wall, panting. After a few minutes he stood up and retrieved the pistol from under the mattress. He took off his shoes and opened the door. He walked in his socks down the black hallway until he stopped in front of a door. It was too dark to see the number. He leveled the pistol at the lock. A sharp cough and a metallic clack, and there was a round hole in the wooden door. He pushed it open. A man and a woman were asleep in the bed. He was sorry the noise hadn’t woken them. Now he would have to.

When he was done, he carefully rearranged the bodies in the positions he had found them in, and then climbed into the bed, and lay there amidst the death, letting the blood soak his clothes.
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The more I thought about it, the more Mirror’s Point sounded less like a peaceful, mountain town and more like a desperate cry for attention. I tried to relax. I looked out the window as the first sight of my destination loomed around the corner, along with more last-minute doubts. I shoved them to the back of my mind as the car trundled along the dirt road.

I exited my ride to a picture perfect horror story. Snow and harsh wind whirled around pine trees and whispered up wooden alleys. The town was small, encased by white towers and covered by matching shrouds. I crunched around to the back of the car and slid my suitcase out. Then I set off into the bleak air to find my hotel.

When I finally found the place it was to a less than warm welcome. The building was decorated with yellow tape and lit up by flashing police lights. It didn’t take long to figure out that I was going to have to find a different place to crash. I stood at the street corner, ice slick beneath my shoes, trying not to look as out of place as I felt. The wind was playing the part of the angry cop, trying to stop me from staring at the crime scene. In the end I complied, tearing myself away from the lonely scene.

I found an all-night diner on the edge of town. The flashing neon display gave the impression that the owner was either color blind or staging a one man war on epileptics. Spirals of snow flickered into view as the light show drummed out its relentless eye-sore. I figured things might as well go from bad to worse, and pushed open the glass door. The diner was a tiled box, bathed in plastic light and topped with a stucco ceiling that looked like it molted twice a week. The lady behind the counter peered up from behind a pile of stale donuts and coffee mix. She looked like a veteran on the job, and didn’t bother saying anything. She knew I didn’t want to be there. I looked around. The only other sorry soul in here was something of an eye-sore himself. He was tall guy, and it looked like he’d been up all night. He sat with his head in his hands, round spectacles on the table. A small briefcase stood on the floor beside his chair. He looked up, and I saw that he was holding a small piece of cloth. It looked like part of a bed sheet. His round, bloodshot eyes passed over me as if I were a ghost. He sighed heavely and resumed his old posture. I crossed to the other side of the diner and sat down.

I tried to think of what I going to do. I needed a phonebook. Or a drink. Just as this comforting idea entered my head, I heard the door open. Two cops walked in. They ordered at the counter and sat down at a table by the window. The tall man at the other end of the diner watched them warily. My mind flashed back to the crisscrossing yellow tape and blue lights. I had a sudden urge to forget about the drink and jump ship. The other guy looked like he had the same idea. He was reaching for his briefcase. I remembered the cold piece of metal sitting in a concealed holster at my side. I watched the other guy as he heaved the case on the table. He flicked it open. The lid obscured my view of his hand as he reached inside. I wasn‘t the only one who noticed. One of the cops nudged his partner, and they started walking over to him. I glanced at the clock and when I looked back, the tall man was on his feet, holding a smoking pistol. One of the cops was on the ground. I hadn’t even heard the shot. The cop that was still standing yelled and drew his own weapon. He fired from the hip as the tall man leapt behind the counter. The lady behind the counter let out a scream that was cut short with a sharp cough and a metallic clack. I rolled off the chair and behind the table. My revolver was already in my hand. The cop had hauled his partner behind an overturned table and was yelling into his radio. The tall man stood up and opened fire. The bullets ripped through the thin wooden table and hit the officer in the vest. He went down, but I was pretty sure he was still alive. The tall man seemed to have forgotten I was there. He turned and bolted out the back door.

I was going on auto-pilot. It suddenly didn’t matter that I had turned in my badge five years ago. I couldn’t let this guy get away. It was just plain instinctive. I ran after him. I’ll admit, blindly chasing after and armed killer wasn’t one of my best plans. But, I thought, as I hurtled through the door and into the frosty night, it wasn’t one of my best days, either.

The killer was slow. His pace had slowed to a trot, and he was doubled over. I knelt behind a dumpster as he turned around and emptied his pistol. The metal shuddered violently, but it held. I rose from behind my cover. The tall man shrieked in panic, and threw down his gun. He stumbled around the corner, grasping the wall. I followed.

When I found him, he was inside a dark green minivan, his forehead on the wheel and his hand fumbling with the ignition that wouldn’t start. He was sobbing. I held my gun leveled at him and opened the door. I looked inside and I felt an unwelcome stab of pity. I had no idea what he’d done, but I knew he deserved what he was getting. I tried to tell myself that he was an isolated case, one in a million. I told myself he was somehow inhuman. But I couldn’t see him as a monster. I wasn’t sure what he was. But I was shaken as I walked back into the tumultuous storm, into the symphony of sirens.



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