These are the most testing times the human race have faced since World War II. This time the enemy is unseen, an enemy so powerful it’s forcing many of us to retreat back into our houses. It’s here that people will try to continue to live as normal a life as they can and it’s here that the wonderful art of storytelling may blossom. Be it, young children sitting in front of a parent, or a person sadly on their own listening to the radio, stories will be spread and remembered, to be told to future generations once this horrible virus has faded.
I wanted to be able to share some stories with the fiends of Kendall Reviews, stories to help people get through these difficult times.
Today it’s a genuine thrill to bring you a short from the superb Steve Stred. Steve describes this story as the favourite thing he’s written.
Snow On A Clear Night
Simon was dead.
Sitting on the front step of his parent’s house, he waited for his best friend, Mike to get home from school.
Mike lived across the street and didn’t mind that Simon wore a sheet over his body. Two eyeholes cut into the thin piece of material showcased Simon’s black eyes. Mike found that even without seeing his friends face anymore, the eyes divulged how Simon was feeling just as well as any facial expression ever could.
This was Simon’s favorite time of the year.
The leaves had changed colors, people started to decorate and put out blow up’s of zombies, vampires and scary clowns. Neighbors raked their yards, kids and dogs alike running and jumping in the piles. The coats were thicker, gloves keeping hands warm.
The summer was Simon’s least favorite season because Mike went away on vacation.
During the summer months, Simon would bide his time. Hour after hour on the front step, longing for school to return, for August to end.
It had been four years since Simon died.
Since that day, Mike had grown older and taller, but he still played with Simon, still considered him his best friend.
Seeing the school bus pull up, Simon smiled under the white cloth, waving excitedly at his friend as he hopped off the bus.
“Hey, Simon,” Mike yelled out, jogging over to the smaller kid.
“Hello, how was school?”
“Fantastic! I have some homework to do. After dinner, how about I come over and tell you about it?”
“I’d love that,” Simon said, watching as his friend went to his house, backpack weighed down from the heavy school books.
Moments like these reminded Simon of the blackness he had inside. He could feel the warmth of joy trying to worm its way back to the surface. That sensation made their relationship worth it.
Simon went inside their boarded up house, looking for his mom.
He found her crying in her room.
“Mom, sorry to interrupt. May I spend some time with Mike tonight?”
The night time was Simon’s preferred time to play with Mike. Nobody ever questioned them as they ran and laughed. The darkness was their camouflage. It was a love-hate relationship though. On school nights, Mike couldn’t stay out late.
She looked up at her son, smiling at the ghost before her.
“Yes, my boy. Of course.”
Simon left her to cry some more.
She’d mourned him every day since he’d stopped living. Her only pause had been after she’d bled out in the bathtub, the despair of losing her child too much to take. When her spirit returned to the house, she returned to crying. Her tears were for the memories she no longer had, the life she no longer lived.
Simon paused in the hallway.
Re-entering her room, he walked over to her and gave her a hug, wrapping his white clothed arms around her.
“Would you like to go for a walk, mom?”
“I would love that.”
He took her hand and led her outside, feeling the crisp bite of the air that only October weather can bring. The feeling of snow in the not-so-distant future made for crunchier leaves and greyer clouds. It was the seasonal change that hurried the elderly to warmer climates and the young to dream of costumes and candy, chased by snow forts and Santa.
They walked slowly down the block, stepping from the sidewalk to let the living pass. Some could sense their energy, but they didn’t want to intrude in their lives.
They chatted about what Mike was learning in school, Simon excited to hear about the new stuff later. These talks always made her stomach knot, knowing her boy would never get to have those experiences again. All of his friends had aged, moved on, most having already forgotten about her small boy.
“Do you think any of my friends remember me?”
“Oh, honey. I know they do.”
“I think most of them want to forget me. Forget what happened.”
She looked off into the distance, hoping her son wouldn’t see the emotions that crawled across her discolored skin. It occurred to her that while he still appeared to be an elementary child, his soul was growing older as time marched on.
“Whoa! Mom! Look at that,” he shouted, running ahead of her, transforming back into a kid.
The Larder’s at the corner had already put most of their Halloween decorations up and Simon was thrilled.
There was a grim reaper driving a carriage, the horse looking fierce at the front. There were pumpkins, zombies, scary cats and werewolves. They’d gone all out this year.
“I wish we could do something like this at home,” Simon mentioned, as they investigated everything. As they passed near Mr. Larder, he noticed the man shiver and look around.
“I know. But this is just down the street. I promise, every night, we’ll walk over here and spend some time enjoying it.”
They carried on, travelling the small loop that made up their block. By the time they’d returned home, the sun had long since set and the street lights were now on, illuminating the sidewalk. If someone looked just right, they’d still be able to see faded chalk where hopscotch lines had once been drawn.
“I’ll just wait out here for Mike, if that’s ok?”
“Yes, my love,” she said, kissing his head.
It wasn’t long before Mike came barrelling out of his house, running over to Simon.
“Hey,” he shouted. When the two were close enough, Mike extended his hand and they shared a high-five. Simon had no idea why Mike could see him or have physical contact with him, but he was thankful for it. He suspected it was because Mike had been his one true friend. The only kid to always come to his birthday parties. The physical world of the living was moving on, Simon sensing the fleeting remnants of touch disappearing.
“It means a lot that you still visit me.”
“Simon, you sound like an old man! Of course I’d want to hang out with my best friend!”
The two then hurried into Simon’s back yard.
From the kitchen window, Simon’s mom watched them play. They chased each other, played in Simon’s old sand pit and then took turns on the tire swing. Seeing this was the highlight of her day. Her boy still had a friend; a living, breathing friend. In that moment, she knew Simon was the happiest kid on the planet.
Another school year sped by, as only they do when you’re young.
The last bell of the year sounded and the kids piled out of the classrooms, the happy clamour of freedom ringing throughout the halls of learning.
Mike stopped at the little plaque near the metal shop before he left.
He read the words twice, not wanting to forget them.
The memorial for Simon always made him sad, but for some reason he found this time was the saddest one yet.
Mike skipped off the bus and waved at Simon, sitting in his familiar spot.
“Hey, buddy!” He yelled, jogging over.
“You don’t sound very happy?”
“Sorry. It’s just… it’s gonna be summer time. You’ll be gone and I won’t see you for months again.”
“I know. I’m real sorry.”
Then Mike tapped his shoulder, told him he was it and dropped his back pack. He took off on a dead sprint and Simon followed, the white sheet flapping behind him. The two friends laughed and laughed as they played, knowing time wasn’t on their side. As the night grew dark and the hour late, Mike’s mom yelled for him to come in.
“Sorry, mom. Was just playing with Simon.”
His mom looked around wearily, before ushering her boy inside. She hoped this stage would be over soon.
The September long weekend was something Simon looked forward to.
He’d spent the last few months entertaining himself.
His mother had taken to spending more and more time in her room. It made for many lonely stretches for Simon.
But that was about to change.
His friend would be home soon.
Hearing the arrival of the family car, Simon hurried outside to watch them unpack their holiday gear.
Mike had told him years ago about how his parents owned a cabin on a lake and when they lived there, they’d spend the months fishing, swimming and having wiener roasts around the fire.
“If you were still alive, you’d be coming to visit me for sure! We’d sleep under the stars, go for hikes and we could sit on the edge of the dock, letting our feet dangle in the water,” Mike would say, not knowing just how deep that statement hurt Simon.
If I were alive, things would be so very different, he’d think. My mom would still be alive.
His dad would still be around.
After his mother took her life, his dad couldn’t continue to live in the house. All of his memories of his son, his family and that life were there. So, he packed up and moved to an apartment across town. Once a week, Simon would stand in the window and wave while his dad sat in their car, parked in the driveway. For the first few years, he would be crying. Simon wished so desperately to be able to go out, talk to him, hug him. He’d tell his dad how much he missed him and that he loved him. How mom was with him and they were still in the house. Mostly, he wished his dad could see him standing there.
As time went on, his dad boarded up the place, wanting to make sure no one ever moved in.
If Simon were still alive, the house would still be filled with life.
Now, he sat at his spot, watching with excitement as Mike and his parents made multiple trips from the car into their house, carrying in all of the stuff they’d brought with them that summer.
Soon. Soon he’ll be done and come see me, Simon thought, growing giddier as the day progressed.
As dinner time came and went and the night descended on the residents of the town, Simon remained, patiently waiting for his friend.
He was playing with a stick he’d found, pushing some rocks around, when a noise from across the street grabbed his attention. He looked up and beamed, seeing Mike leaving the house. Then Mike got on his bike and peddled away.
His mom popped out, yelling after him; “Be home before nine, please!”
Mike just gave her a wave and kept on riding, never looking over at the small, forgotten ghost.
The greens turned to oranges, the warmth to cool.
Still, Simon sat and waited.
Maybe today he’ll come say hello, he’d think as those days turned to weeks.
He practically felt alive each time the school bus pulled up. Then Mike would get off and walk directly home. Simon felt like he was stabbed in the chest, his friend not even stealing a glance at the costume pleading for some acknowledgement.
Simon had never felt so isolated. His mom no longer spoke any words, now spending all of her days sobbing in the corner of her room.
The black mold and frayed wallpaper of the house indicated that things were changing, that the living were leaving them behind. Simon couldn’t even remember the last time his dad had stopped to visit.
How can I go on without a friend? He wondered one night, as the tire swing slowly turned him in circles.
Above him, even the man on the moon felt his sorrow.
The first day it snowed that year, a knocking sound brought Simon to the front door.
He’d long since given up believing that it was going to be Mike, asking if he’d like to play.
When he went outside he found a group of city workers hammering a sign on the door.
CONDEMNED, it read.
Simon understood the impact of those words. He ran inside to tell his mom, but couldn’t find her anywhere.
He searched high and low, thinking maybe that she was teasing him. He hoped that her sobs would give away her hiding place. Maybe she is playing a game with me, he thought.
After looking everywhere, the truth hit Simon.
He was completely and utterly alone.
A small, scared child, now dead five years. Alone.
No family and now no friends.
He walked back to his mom’s abandoned room and crawled onto her bed. He could still smell her under the mildew and the dust.
The night before the machines were to destroy the remainder of Simon’s world, he sat on the front steps one last time.
He longed to go for one last walk, immerse himself in familiar sights, as more and more Christmas lights were put up. He wasn’t sure what would become of him once the house was knocked down. A part of him was worried that if he did go for a walk, the house wouldn’t be there when he got back. Maybe, it would up and leave like his mom?
His costume fluttered as the snow begun to fall. Being dead provided the benefit of never getting cold, but he could still feel the attack of the wind as it whipped up and howled.
Across the way, he watched Mike and his family laughing at their kitchen table, an act that appeared foreign to Simon.
Did we do that? When we had dinner, did my parents laugh?
Above him, the dark sky began to sparkle and dance as the stars appeared.
How Simon ached to have a connection.
He hung his head, lost in his thoughts as his shoe worked the snow, making little graves.
He was so focused that he never heard Mike, until his friend was standing there.
“Hey,” Mike said, startling Simon.
His head snapped up, not believing that Mike was talking to him.
“Hello.” He replied, trying to keep his excitement in check.
“I’m sorry I haven’t been to visit.”
Mike sat beside the ghost, joining him on the step.
“That’s ok. I’m not that much fun these days.”
Mike nodded, not sure what to say.
“My mom’s gone,” Simon finally said.
“She is? Where?”
“Awe, buddy I’m so sorry,” Mike replied, putting his arm around the boy and giving him a hug.
“How has school been?”
“Really good. They’ve made a bigger plaque for you.”
They sat silently, Mike starting to shiver.
“Simon. I’m… I’m really sorry for what those kids did to you.”
Simon looked to his friend, seeing that the waver he heard in Mike’s voice matched the wetness in his eyes.
“The bullying should’ve stopped. You should’ve told me. I would’ve been there for you.”
Simon returned the gesture, giving his distraught friend a hug.
Mike wiped his face, his sleeves covered with snot.
“Simon, my parents have told me I’m too old to believe in ghosts.”
Simon understood. Mike had come to say goodbye.
“I guess they’re right. It’s probably not healthy for you to be hanging out with the spirit of a kid who killed himself?”
Quiet reflection returned as they watched the flakes grow in size, some as large as quarters dropping from above.
“I never understood how it can snow when the sky is clear,” Mike finally spoke, breaking the stillness.
“You told me once, after you learned about it in school. The year after I returned.”
Simon sensed their time was growing to a close.
“I wish we could be friends forever,” he said, looking at Mike.
Mike returned his gaze, eyes finding the two black pupils behind the sheet.
“We will be. I’ll never forget you. I just can’t visit with you anymore.”
From across the street, they heard Mike’s mom yell that he should think about coming in soon.
“You think you can push me on the tire swing, one last time?”
So, the ghost and his friend made their way through the layer of snow now starting to cover the grass, around the condemned house to the old tree in the back yard.
Simon climbed onto the tire, legs wrapping around the rope that was fixed to the thick branch above.
And for the next hour, long after Mike’s mom had made her way over to tell him that it was time to get ready for bed, Mike pushed his departed friend.
The sound of children’s laughter echoed across the fields and houses nearby. The glee and joy shared between the two friends was infectious enough that even the boarded up house groaned on its weary foundation as their love seeped in.
He never did visit Simon again, after that night. Nor did he ever see him.
Where Simon ended up he didn’t know, but he always wondered.
The next day the house was demolished and a duplex was built in its place, the tire swing never replaced.
At the end of every school year, until he finally graduated, Mike made sure to stop and read the plaque put up to remember Simon. He’d leave some flowers or a note for his friend.
Sometimes a single memory will last long after a friendship has ended.
For Mike, that memory was of getting off the school bus and waving at the little ghost sitting patiently, waiting for his best friend.
He’d often think of that whenever he’d find himself watching the first flakes of snow dance in the air, under the starlit sky.
Steve Stred writes dark, bleak horror fiction.
Steve is the author of three novels, a number of novellas and four collections.
He is proud to work with the Ladies of Horror Fiction to facilitate the Annual LOHF Writers Grant.
Steve is also a voracious reader, reviewing everything he reads and submitting the majority of his reviews to be featured on Kendall Reviews.
Steve Stred is based in Edmonton, AB, Canada and lives with his wife, his son and their dog OJ.
You can follow Steve on Twitter @stevestred
You can follow Steve on Instagram @stevestred
You can visit Steve’s Official website here