It was early March when Father called — Mother had taken a turn for the worst.

I hopped in my jalopy that evening and started for Fort Wayne. It was a six-hour drive from Dayton in clear weather, with which the late Winter had blessed us, and I hoped the old girl could hold out.

I hadn’t driven 20 miles before the temperature dropped precipitously and snow began to fall. Within 30, the storm forced me to stop at the first inn I encountered.

The lobby was dark when I entered, lit by a single lantern and occupied by only the innkeeper and another unlucky soul caught out in the weather.

This latter was a gentleman of about 70, and we took to conversation at a big round table in the middle of the room. His eyes sparkled when I told him about Mother, and I fancied his eyes were wetted with tears.

For the next couple of hours, this chap regaled me with one card trick after another and then retrieved a box from a nearby shelf.

“What say we try our hand at this puzzle?” the stranger asked, twinkling at me again.

I was tired but drawn to the man, so we set about assembling the cruel scene: a bright Spring country day.

We retired to our rooms directly, me concerned that I may never again see my mother alive.

When I awoke early the next morning, however, I was astonished to see the sun shining and no trace of snow. The road was clear.

As I settled my account, I chanced a glance at the round table.

There on top was a sealed puzzle box, pieces evidently still inside. The scene was of a frosty winter’s night … with an old man waving from one corner.

(This post was written in response to a Daily Flash Fiction Challenge on Writing.com.)

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