Entranced by beauty, Derek Jones’ narrator will stop at nothing to track down the body that made those footprints. In an engaging story entrenched with longing and suspense, we are taught we must question everything.
Her black boots punched into the snow–leaving a powdery residue on her heels. She wore a red hat with a ball on the top, cocooning her lazy brown hair underneath.
I smiled. What would it take for me to talk to her? Was it a “hello?” Was I to mention the snow? Perhaps that was an overblown cliché in the art of small talk. “Be yourself,” I said aloud, as I panned back and forth, rubbing the hairs on my chin. About two tables down a man scoffed down a bag of chips, as he texted away on his phone. His gray hood covered the acne on his face, as he vanished away into a cellular world.
I turned back hoping to see her, but she was gone.
All that remained were her footprints in the snow—a distant reminder of her presence. Tarnished of its glory, the snow continued to fall, refilling the rupture of its natural essence.
She was beautiful. It was as if I had never seen anyone with such grace. I could lose myself through her.
I set off to find her, following what she had left behind. The wind blew a coat of snow over the path and obscured my vision, while erasing her trail. I was lost. Not in space, but in time— the time it took for me to realize I had lost faith.
I didn’t mind. I shrugged my shoulders, admitting defeat but collecting my pride. Was she gone forever? Her memory left an imprint far more distinguishable than a foot print in the snow. This imprint stuck; corralled in the walls of my consciousness. She was here– but her physicality was absent, like my absent mind, as I fought truth. I knew it could not be. I was a mere stranger, blending into a campus of intriguing minds. I didn’t belong here–but she made me feel like I did.
The snowflakes hit my forehead, melting upon impact. Water dripped down under my coat, allowing thin streams to slide down my chest.
She lost me before I found her.
Had I lost my mind? Had my obsession with Poe turned me into a mad man? Or had my Wordsworthian view made me appreciate and glorify the natural world I live in?
I brushed through the snow. My boots acquired clumps of the powdered essence as well. My toes began to grow numb. It had only been ten minutes but it felt like she was gone forever.
What had I loved about her? Was it a connection I made? Did I love her or just who I thought she was?
Her mystery haunted me. I created personas, in my mind, of her perfect being– her warm elegance and scholar brilliance pouring out, as she held her head high toward the heavens.
The way she walked with confidence was something I adored. She was passive. I could tell in her stride— floating above the ground, allowing her feet to glide over the icy pavement.
Some time passed. I didn’t think about her, nor was the thought signaled by anything else. I thought I would work on myself, before working on another. I had seen other girls. Other mystifying beauties strutted through campus walkways like their own personal runways. But nobody compared to her. It was love at first sight, yet I hadn’t seen her physically, just how she presented herself. The way the sun struck her hair, transferring a gleam of light into my pupils. I covered my eyes. I always managed to watch from a distance, to ensure she wouldn’t see me.
It was about two months later when I saw her. On a Tuesday. In the same spot as last. It was nearing the middle of the winter, as the snow continued to build up on pre-existing mounds.
She was in a hurry this time. I watched from a distance, inside, alienating myself from the cold. She blocked the wind with her arm while trudging through the snow. A gust of wind blew through, sweeping her hat off of her head.
I got up instantly—staring as she turned, nervously searching for her hat. Why did I feel so invisible? Like there was nothing I could do.
She panicked, and I watched from afar. I felt helpless. Her aura shattered. I froze.
It seemed like the hat carried that aura. As if it gave her the confidence to gallivant around, showcasing her beauty one step at a time. As if it concealed the mystery I thought she lived. The hat disappeared. I had yet to see her face as she continued to turn away, searching through the heavy snow.
Calmly gathering myself, I walked outside to aide to her. I turned the corner and she was gone. Her hat peaked through the snow, as I spotted a small glimpse of the red ball on top. I dug into the snow, revealing the hat. I turned it inside out. “Karlie” was written in cursive over the tag.
“Karlie,” I said to myself, sliding the hat into my coat pocket.
For the next few weeks I would return to the same spot, every Tuesday, at the same time, hoping that I would see her once more. It began to seem like I created this perfect being, in place of her mystery.
Our paths never crossed, but I prepared what I would do if they did. How I would confess my feelings. How I would discover the truth which I longed for; the truth that would set me free.
I rested my head within my folded arms. The cold marble counter top chilled my body as I secretly surveyed the walkway. It was 11:15 AM. Tuesday. February 24th.
Upon picking up my head, I saw her footprints laid across the snow, in the same format as last. Immediately, I ran out the door, convinced I wouldn’t miss her again. But she was gone. All I remembered her by were her footprints, plastered on the ground as if to set a trail.
I decided to follow her footprints, staring at the ground, foot by foot, praying I don’t miss a step. I carefully followed the clues like a detective, cracking the code to reveal the inescapable truth.
What was it about her that made me plan my life accordingly? Every move, every step– planned in anticipation of seeing her waltz past me. I had grown obsessed. Finally something in life to thrill my mind—a psychological journey to discover a love I embellished. I followed the trail up and down hills, in between the secret trails of campus, through buildings and out the other side. But I ended where I started. Had I imagined her? Was this all a lie? I circled around, analyzing the area and any paths that may lead to this cherished discovery.
Then, I saw her.
Now, with a blue hat on, she looked over her shoulder to see if I was following her. She walked down an alley and I was quick to do the same.
I reached the alley, but she was nowhere in sight. Again, she had slipped from me. The footprints vanished, and the sheer, untouched snow shimmered from the sun.
I was finished. Over the months I had lost sleep over her and spent countless mornings waiting to finally meet. I had a reoccurring dream of her standing right in front of me with her back turned, and every time I would reach out to touch her she would disappear. It was no use. I headed back, in hopes that I would continue to live my life and rid her of my memory.
Behind me, her footprints were still visible, as if they were just pressed into the snow. Snowflakes slowly filled in where she once walked.
I retraced my steps, slowly regaining hope of ever seeing her again. Although I saw her from a distance, there was a mystery within her that I wanted to solve. I followed the trail again, but ended up in the same spot, nearing her final steps until the snow lay untouched. It continued to snow, and as I followed the footprints they filled in more as time went on.
I was ready to give up but I didn’t. I wanted to prove this to myself. This ended up being a personal battle, an inner conflict within myself that I had to overcome, or I merely couldn’t live another day in peace. She was what I was waiting for—a love like no other.
If I could love her, I wouldn’t have to love myself.
Just as I had enough, a car drove by, splashing me with the salty slush that accumulated from the melted snow. I refrained from cursing, seeing as it would make no difference. I wiped the remaining mush off of my jacket, flicking it onto the ground. As I looked down I saw something. It seemed as though the snow blanket had been washed away, showing the once “invisible” footprints.
I followed them, back up and down hills, through secret trails on campus, in buildings and out the other side. Except this time, I ended somewhere else. I took this as a positive sign and continued walking, kicking my boots through the ankle-high snow.
The trail stopped. I picked up my head to realize I was in front of my apartment building. But how could it be? Did I lead myself here? Was this simply another one of her schemes to avoid me? To avoid a connection we could create or fulfill one I already created? Though startled, I continued on, assuming she lived on one of the floors.
I opened the elevator door. There was a puddle that recently formed. The small bits of snow that fell off of her boots remained, while the rest had melted away. I went up each floor to find where the trail continued.
The second floor. Then the third floor. Then the fourth floor. Then the fifth floor.
Nowhere. She was nowhere to be found.
The next stop was the final floor. My floor. If the elevator door opened and
there was no trail, would I finally be relieved of this stress, or would I spiral into a deeper depression, regretting what could’ve been?
The bell struck. *Ding*. The noise rang in my ears, rattling my brain. What was I doing? Did I do all of this for the mere possibility of love?
The door began to open. I was pressed up against the wall of the elevator, so I could see the ground before the door had fully opened.
There it was.
The salty, wet remains of our excursion through campus. Her first two steps out of the elevator were filled with snow and sludge, while the rest were simply the watery under-side of
her boots, stamped on the floor one after another.
601. 602. 603.
The trail continued as I passed each room quickly. It seemed like she started to run as I could only see half of her foot in each step.
Had she been escaping from me? Did she not want the love I possessed?
604. 605. 606.
Still the trail went on, each print less visible than the last.
607. 608. 609.
I could barely follow the trail anymore. Each step had grown smaller and smaller, as her footprints dried by the second.
610. 611. 612.
It stopped. Months of this self-created fantasy was about to come to an end. The footprints turned toward a door. I looked up at the number. 612.
“612” I said to aloud.
“This is my apartment”.
I didn’t want to believe it, but the proof stared at me. I put my hand on knob and slowly opened the door. She had to be here. The vaguely noticeable prints, resulting from our march across campus, were laid across the wood floor. I tracked them through our apartment, past each room. They stopped at the end of the hall, directly in front of my room.
It couldn’t be.
Upon opening my door, there was no trail to be found. No snow remained. No untied pair of boots. No blue hat. Nothing.
She was nowhere to be found. I was convinced it was a dream, until I struck myself in the jaw and didn’t wake up.
What was happening?
I didn’t want to keep questioning myself. I was clearly not the one to ask. This was the responsibility of some supernatural entity or the work of God himself.
I sprinted to my desk and pulled open the bottom drawer. My eyes grew wider than marbles as I marveled over this epiphany. It was gone. The hat was gone. My heart dropped into my stomach.
Did she come in here to steal it? Had her plan been to delay me so she could get in-and-out unscathed?
I tried to reason with myself, to find some explanation of my obsessive manner. But I was lost and mentally destroyed. There had to be more. I replayed the entire experience in my head. From the Tuesday morning sightings to the countless failed tracings.
Was this even real? Did I imagine a perfect girl and physically transform her into a being to rest my eyes upon? Was I the only one to see her? I remembered nobody helped her when she searched for her hat; and there was simply no explanation for her leading me to my room.
I was standing above the drawer, still staring into its emptiness. I shut it, closed my door and left.
Was this a lie that I tried to rationalize? Or was the lie my way of avoiding the realization that we would never meet? I couldn’t answer these questions. My mind spun.
I only knew one thing for sure. I would see her again. Or maybe I wouldn’t.
I’ll find out next Tuesday.