She’d moved to the mountain to escape humanity so she was surprised one day to see large, bare footprints in the snow by the frozen pond. Curious, she took a plate of food, and left it there, complete with a fork. When she returned the next day, the plate and fork, completely clean, were where she’d left them. She kept leaving food, and retrieving the dishes, every day…until she’s spiked that high fever and her stomach revolted against her. On her third day in bed, she startled when she heard heavy footsteps on the front stoop… .

(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)

Snow-light streaked through cabin windows onto bare floorboards as I negotiated a Bailey’s and coffee.

I muttered while combing out blond tangles. Even amid solitude, morning hair and makeup mattered.

Turning 60 had its advantages–implied experience and wisdom, but the downsides fogged my vision.

But more than age, unforgiving memories weighted me down, spurring me north to this mountain lifestyle. Here, I could prevail in a spirit of wonder while navigating ambiguity and loss.

I thumbed through a fit-over-60 magazine, grabbed a 20-lb. dumbbell and began pumping. I felt the heave of endorphins via muscle building and a renewed hope of healing.

But the ache of loss quickly muscled its way back in. I succumbed to a wake of grief, curling up into a ball of sleep on the sofa as the snow continued to pour purity across my haven.

Boom! An explosion of worry awakened me. I donned my boots and stepped outside to footprints of uncertainty impressing the snow-capped ground. I wandered across curiously until the footprints gradually faded.

While weariness occasionally had begun to creep into my day-to-day, the altitude of this mountain made me heady; I quickly rebounded. Today was no exception. While I still had a full-time remote workload to navigate, my obligations were negligible. No husband, no kids, no pets. Freedom, as it were, to do as I please.

My eyes soaked up silence. My heart was sanguine. I lingered in the limbo. The ground quivered, and my heart ached longingly for him–the memories and future we had yet to build.

Our dreams sat abandoned, adrift on a sea of tumult. Behaviors of the past murmured angrily, begging reconciliation.

Later that day I sat journaling, evolving the past into future possibility, but my pen stopped flowing and hope dried out.

The TV offered escape into someone else’s reality, and I languished in their laughter and joy until sleep consumed me.

Another set of footprints greeted me the next morning. This time, they didn’t fade, but only became increasingly more impressionable. I followed them along a narrow mountainside path, like a dog tracks a scent. I was entranced, unable to stop the forward momentum compelling me to unearth the mystery.

Along the circuitous way, an anomaly of items lined the snowy path, a random red rose, a pine tree dripping with purple berries, and a pair of abandoned brown snow boots with red laces.

I heard the cry of a wolf, the chirping of birds, and the fluttering of something winged that was both alarming and calming.

Even though my bum knee fought back, and my nose and ears ached from cold, I marched forward, in sync with the footprints which remained solid and encouraging.

Guilt that had heretofore engulfed me (on my worst days) and niggled at my fringes of hope began to subside. However, as the hours elapsed, twilight emerged, I realized turning back was my only option.

Calm and disappointment cohabitated as I returned to my cabin. Potato soup, a crackling fire and a movie set in a seaside village calmed me to sleep.

The next morning’s view was like every other morning – akin to a sunburst of hope. The mementoes of our sailboat wedding were anchored on my bedroom shelf; a picture of him smiling shone so brilliantly, it lit up the room.

I closed my eyes and could hear the lapping of the water on a vessel intimately familiar with the seas of laughter emanating from this once-happy couple. We wandered about the craft, singing, sipping wine, wrapping arms tightly about one another.

I reopened my eyes to reality and wept quietly before resuming the day.

Days turned into weeks and the footprints faded into spring.

I prayed for hope, and the mementoes gave way to freshly picked flowers arranged wildly and colorfully in vases and paintings from a nearby art gallery draping my walls.

I prayed for joy, and the birds sang jubilant songs of possibility.

I prayed for distraction, and my solitude turned into community, as I opened up to new friendships and conversation in neighboring towns.

And the months evolved into another winter, and loneliness reemerged, but more gently this time. My heart felt the pull, like the moon to the earth, and I smiled to myself.

And the footsteps returned, but this time, sensing my healing and strength, sought sweet entry into my heart — the captain seeking his first mate — to refit their damaged vessel. As if the sturdiness of the stern and the confidence of the bow were all they needed to navigate out of the cold of winter, once again, into the sea of hope, together.

Tranquility swept me up as I fetched the matte white glaze urn vase from the cherry wood shelf and hugged it close to me.

“Fair winds my dear man,
as we sorrowfully part,
the clock it has turned,
and for now our two hearts,
once consumed by the nights,
with the memories made,
have moved onward to solace,
and the grief has been staid,
by a calmness and peace,
such tranquility,
as we’re no longer broken,
but together so free.”