The wind outside the window buffeted the old building in steady pounding gusts. Tall bare trees, clustered together as though to shelter from the icy blasts were unable to stand up to the push of frigid air making them sway like empty sentinels. Remnants of dried leaves here and there clacking against each other with every breath from the grey desolate sky, a sound that made her think of castanets, or the half hearted cries of angry birds.
The snow had fallen softly, gently, all day, and the rooftops were covered with a fine, sugary powder. A particularly vicious gust shook the rafters and snow as fine as talc lifted and swirled, moving in a locust like cloud before swirling and disappearing to nothing. Staring out the window, watching it catch and drift over and over, she thought it looked like smoke. Smoke made of snow, the wind a catalyst to a freezing burning of the whole landscape. Clack, clack said the shivering leaves, pale rust colored, where just months ago they’d been ablaze, the sun piercing them to create a corona of crimson. Fall was a sumptuous riot, colors elbowing each other out of the way for prominence, the sun an accomplice to the blinding array of showy beauty. But that was months ago, and now they were merely dead things making dead thing noises. Empty threats and skeletal sounds. The bleak vista left her aching and empty.
This was ghost season. Blank dirty sky, grey ghost trees, the wind making sounds that felt like grief. The windows in the empty apartment across the lot shuddered and shifted in the fading light with the hardest gusts, and she found her eyes drawn to the reflection as it moved with subtle hues in tandem with the trees that shimmied behind the roof line. The snow decided to get more serious as the light began to fade into dusk, the days were growing longer, but it was still firmly winter. Her head back against the wall, flakes getting larger, tripling in size, they corkscrewed outside her second story window, down, down, twirling and spinning lazily, until a gust threw a wrench in the cadence of their descent. A sudden shift in the light caught her eye and what was that? What did she just see? The window across the way, the empty apartment, something there. A shape, lighter than the room, shift to the left, and then just out of sight. She sat up, tried to see better, then again a flit of something lighter than the darkness. The snow suddenly diminished in size, then slowed its volume, and she could see much more clearly. Yes. Something there, by the window. Looking out. Looking toward her? She crept from her bed and stood just to the right of the window, the curtain concealing her, her face up against the fabric, her breathing moving the curtain ever so slightly, it smelled like dust. Vaguely, she thought about how she ought to launder her drapes. Slowly, she peered around the curtain, one eye trained toward the window, wishing herself to invisibility. Nothing. Inky blackness from the unlit room, no pale figure, no movement. Unaware that she had been holding her breath, she let it out in a whoosh and felt her tensed body sag. Nothing. And, it was darkening quickly now, no way to see anything with clarity. Heaving a sigh, chagrined at her own hysteria, she released the edge of the blackout curtain and turned away from the window, determined to find some more productive release for her over active mind when she heard from downstairs the front door to her apartment open and close. Standing in the darkened bedroom in the apartment where she lived by herself, she felt her throat and her stomach clench with fear, and then she heard footsteps on the stairs.