This is where I should be. I made the drive in twenty-seven hours, living on the raided contents of the mini-bar, stopping only once to sleep in a truck stop somewhere in Omaha. The sun is rising now, the rays shining into my sleep-stained eyes, but I cannot look away from the filling station where I am sure she will soon appear. There was a promise.
I haven’t the heart to listen to the music she sent. It would only remind me of that first night, dancing with her so long ago, our bodies aligned and our cheeks pressed together. We thrust out our closed hands away from the stage and followed them into the busy dance floor. How nice it felt then, to push into a crowd and feel invincible.
What happened to us? She left her journal behind, but it offered no clues to the mystery that was swallowing her. I have read the pages over and over since she left, trying to find the secrets she hid behind that florid handwriting. You should never fall for someone who dots her I’s with hearts. No one can be that happy.
The sun is warming the air around me, but my breath still comes in clouds. A squirrel plays by the rusted metal railing near my car. I throw one of the candies in his direction. It lands near him, but instead of reaching for it, stealing the lump of colored sugar and running to hoard it for the season, he runs off. I throw another handful after him as he leaves.
Then I see the feather, lying there where he was crouching. I walk over and draw it from the snow. It’s from her–I know it. It couldn’t have simply fallen from the sky. The birds have long ago flown south for the winter, following the instincts that say “escape, escape.” And me? I came north.
This was a mistake.
I let her package fall to the ground, save the letter she sent. For that, I strike a match and hold it to the folded pages. This was her final tease, her last chance to draw me out. God damn me for my foolishness, my eagerness. I cannot survive on memories anymore, and I will not fight for promises. I will leave everything here, shed my mottled skin and go back to the desert where I belong. If she does return to this spot, hoping to find me, then let her rummage through the mess. These will be my final words to her.
The paper glows orange, turning to black, and soon is swallowed in flame.
For details of this competition, see “Cold Tracks”, a Black Notebook Mystery