I. Bloodstained Snow

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A flash of lightning changes a dark evening suffocated by charred clouds into a canvas of pure light. Everything is clear to me now.

People think I did it. Their horrified stares shout: he murdered his wife. I'm not sure I can blame them. If I saw bloody footprints trailing behind some guy who had a missing wife, I'd probably come to the same conclusion.

A lot can change in a hundred and forty-four hours.

Six days ago Angela was here...with me. She was a little sick, but she was here. We were happy and getting used to living in the same apartment. Five hundred and eighteen thousand, four hundred seconds ago, the thought of snow didn't make my stomach twist into stabbing knots.

When I was a boy, I remember wishing that the lush, green mountains surrounding Medellín would be covered by snow on Christmas morning. And as a man, snow made me think of skiing in the Alps with my wife.

It used to invoke memories of making love under the shadow of those indigo, snow-capped mountains, causing me to hear my name on her breath and feel her fingers digging into my back.

But that was six days ago.

Now I'm once again sitting in our booth at the Crimson Keg after ordering Salt & Pepper Dry Ribs to start (Angela's favourite). I've always loved a woman with an appetite, and my wife was...is that kind of woman.

On the plate next to the ribs sits an untouched burger. I want to eat it, but my appetite disappeared when Angela did. I'm not sure why I thought tonight would be different.

My eyes wander away from the plates to the rest of the pub. A guy is standing in front of the jukebox in the corner as his buddies shout songs at him from a nearby table.

Above the counter at the bar, the TVs are showing the latest updates and highlights from the various games. In the booth behind mine, a group of friends is laughing and chatting away. And by the table below one of the stained glass windows, a cute couple is smiling and blushing over nachos.

That's how we looked the last time she was here...with me.

"You look like you could use a vacation, hun," Patty says, breaking my troubled thoughts.

"Yeah," I muster a half-smile. "I'm working on it."

"My sister and her fiancé just got back from Bora Bora. They said it's the most relaxing place they've ever been—clear waters, white sand, no snow—might be a good place for you to check out soon," she winks.

I know what she's trying to do.

I grin. "Okay, I'll set a reminder for me to look into Bora Bora later."

"Good enough for me," Patty beams. "Need me to pack that up for you?" she gestures to the food.

"Yes, please—thank you."

"You're welcome, hun," she smiles. "Give me three seconds—I'll bring you another Guinness too," she adds before taking the plates away.

Three empty mugs sit in front of me. I probably shouldn't have another drink, but I'm craving it. It'll have to be the last one until I get home.

A few minutes later, Patty comes back with my packed-up food and another Guinness, perfectly poured, foam settled just at the rim of the glass, fresh from the tap.

"Thanks," I smile, reaching for my wallet.

Patty holds up her hand and looks around. "It's on the house, hun," she says and then walks away before I can object.

She feels sorry for me.

A torrent of tears threatens to break the dam behind my eyes. But I don't want to make a scene here. I inhale and feel the rising tides recede. Hopefully, people walking by can't see my reddened eyes in this dark corner.

I bring the Guinness up to my lips, and it quickly changes from bitter to sweet. My eyes close as I savour the flavour. For a brief moment, nothing is changed. Angela's sitting across from me, giggling. She always pokes fun at the face I make when I down my favourite stout.

But when I open my eyes, there's just an empty seat where my wife should be. The only thing worse than this empty space is the empty apartment waiting for my return. As soon as I finish the last drop in my mug, I grab the bag of food, wave at Patty and do my best to walk normally.

I don't want her to get in trouble for giving me another drink. And I want to be outside before she finds the fifty dollars I left on the table, or she'll try to give it back.

After reaching the steps at the end of the deck, I stop dead in my tracks as my breath frosts in front of my face. It's not snowing anymore, but the sidewalks are covered in white powder.

If I walk there, they'll see it—they'll see the blood.

I fumble around in my coat until I find my phone. A few rings later, and I have a cab coming to pick me up. When it arrives, I quickly hop inside, put on my seat belt and give the driver my address.

"Do you have a preference for which way I should go, sir?" he asks.

He wants to know if I'd like the scenic route or not. I'm not in a hurry, so I oblige.

"Uh, go down Volunteer Street and—"

"Sorry, sir," he interrupts. "Volunteer is a one way—"

"Right, the construction—take Windsor then."

My driver doesn't say anything else for the rest of our icy drive, which is how I prefer it. I can tell he's focused on the task at hand, taking the corners carefully, trying to keep the car as steady as possible. Some drivers try to make small talk in hopes of a bigger tip, but I'm going to tip this guy well because it's a shitty night to be a cab driver.

Eventually, we pull into the loading zone in front of my building. The driver parks and hands me the debit machine. When I'm done paying, I pass it back, and my legs immediately start shaking.

I need to get out and get inside fast. I don't see anyone coming down the sidewalk at the

"Receipt, sir?" the driver asks.

"Yes, please."

"One moment."

If I stand where I step out and wait for him to drive away, I should be able to get inside before he notices the blood.

"Here you go, sir," he says, handing me the receipt. "Thank you very much, and have a good night."

"Thanks, you too."

I open the door, hold my feet just off the ground for a moment, take a deep breath and step out; the snow crunches as my feet hit the ground. Instantly, blood begins flowing from the bottom of my shoes. Sweat beads on my brow as the red stain grows larger. But I can't move yet.

When the cab pulls out onto the road, I make a dash for the front door. Once inside, I glance back, and a shiver runs down my spine. There's a trail of gory footprints leading towards the entrance.

I hurry over to the elevator, hit the button for the sixth floor and press the close door button like a mad man. As the elevator ascends, I exhale in relief, leaning against the cold metal wall.

At least if anyone sees the blood, they won't know it's from me.

The bell rings before the doors slide open, and I start making my way down the lonely hallway. A ghostly silence fills the air, and each of the lights hanging from the ceiling flickers as I walk under them. I whip my head around, swearing I heard footsteps behind me. But there's no one there.

I continue my calm pace until I finally stop in front of my door. After unlocking it, I step inside, close the door by pushing my back into it and take in the brooding darkness of my apartment.

Just then, my phone vibrates in my pocket. I hold my breath when I hear the ringtone.

It's Angela.

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