Mark sat by the window, angling his book to best take advantage of the late winter afternoon sun.
“Did you see what Connor did?” Deborah’s voice nearly startled him.
“What’s that, dear?” he said reflexively, lifting his eyes a moment later.
”It’s right out there.”
Deborah stood in the doorway, smiling though her eyes were troubled. Confused, he followed her pointing finger to the window. Peering out to the front lawn he saw a full, human-sized snowman, complete with coal for eyes, and a carrot nose. He leaned forward a bit, squinting.
“Okay, that has to be my pipe out there, but is that my scarf too?”
“Yes, I believe it is. Do you know what he told me, just a minute ago?”
“Connor. He told me Denny helped him with it.”
At the mention of his stepson’s name Mark started visibly.
“Yeah, I know,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it either. I almost burst into tears right there in the hall. Do you think… well, it’s been almost a year since Denny died. Do you think Connor knows the anniversary’s coming up? He never speaks of him… and now this.”
Her shoulders shook, tears trickling silently. Mark stood, folding her in his arms.
“Hey, take it easy,” he murmured. “I’m sure that’s it. We all miss Denny — that blizzard was a terrible thing. I’m sure Connor’s just picking up on that.”
He held her, stroking her back. All the while he stared over her shoulder, through the window.
Out on the lawn, the snowman seemed to stare back.
~ * ~
“Do we have to leave that thing out there?” Mark said a couple of days later.
Deborah raised an eyebrow.
“What’s the matter with it?”
“It’s like one of those paintings where the eyes follow you,” he said, suppressing a shudder. “Whichever window in the house I look out of, it’s staring at me.”
Her other eyebrow rose, an arch nearly touching her hairline.
“Are you feeling alright?” Her voice held a mixture of amusement and concern.
“Because… well, look here.”
He followed her to the front window, where she gestured out toward the lawn.
“It’s looking at the street, Mark. It’s not even facing the house.”
He stared out the window… at the back of a snowman that stood waving toward the road.
“I… I, uh…”
“You’ve been working too hard—” Deborah patted his shoulder. “— and tomorrow’s Denny’s anniversary. Just try to relax, okay?”
Shaken, Mark could only nod.
~ * ~
Mark looked out office window. Eyes of coal stared back. He went down to the kitchen, babbled inanely with Deborah, glancing out the window with her by his side. He saw the snowman’s back, stick arm raised to an empty country road. He went back to his office, peered out the window. Eyes of coal stared back.
Mark felt a terrible suspicion bloom in his mind, and tried to avoid the windows for the rest of the day.
~ * ~
After midnight Mark left his office, locking the doors on his way to bed. He’d not looked into the yard for hours, but at the front door he reflexively peeked out into the dark. The ever present black eyes stared back — but rather than out by the street, the thing stood at the foot of the steps up to the house!
Mark muffled a terrified shout and leapt up the stairs. He went straight along the upstairs hall to the front of the house, and peeked out the window overlooking the street. The snowman stood by the street once more, back in its customary spot, round head leaned back to stare up at him.
“And stay there, you bastard,” Mark whispered, hearing the tremor in it. “You stay there!”
He lay in bed for an hour. Then two. Closing his eyes but unable to sleep; staying away from the windows through force of will; remembering the events of Denny’s death; wondering if the snowman was out by the street or if it was roaming about.
He wondered if it was coming.
He could finally stand it no longer. He crept down the hall once more, peeking over the sill to view the yard below.
The empty yard below. The snowman was nowhere to be seen.
Eyes wide and staring, Mark was struck by a sudden thought.
I ran away from the front door so fast — but did I lock it? Did I actually turn the lock?
He slunk down the stairs as quickly as he dared, ashamed to be creeping in his own house but unable to stop. He reached out a trembling hand toward the deadbolt.
“Pop… Pop, is that you? Are you there?”
Denny’s voice, so faint, the words oozing softly through the wooden door. Mark was too stunned to respond.
“Pop? Please let me in…”
“You go away,” Mark whispered. “You’re dead!”
“Because you locked the door, Pop. There was a blizzard and you locked the door. Why didn’t you open the door, Pop? I was so cold… so cold…”
“You went out and left the door unlocked,” said Mark, voice rising. “Again. You needed to be taught a lesson. My house, my rules! I needed to teach you a lesson.”
“Is the door locked now, Pop? Is it locked… now?”
Mark’s fingers touched the deadbolt — but the door burst open, sending him staggering. Snow flew through the open doorway, covering his face, blinding him. He felt tree-branch arms encircling him, pinning his hands to his sides. He opened his mouth to scream but it filled instantly with snow. Denny’s voice boomed on the wind that whipped about the hall.
“Unlocked door, Pop! Unlocked! Your rules, Pop! Your rules!”
Mark sputtered and choked, ice crystals forcing their way further into his throat as he struggled to apologize.
~ ~ * * ~ ~
The coroner could never explain how Mark Gengham managed to drown on dry land, in his front hall.
He also failed to explain just how that carrot got up there…