This story was written in response to this image by Anne-Julie Aubry which was used as a visual prompt on G+'s Writer's Discussion Group.
A thin layer of snow coated the ground and the weather was suitably frigid, certainly too cold to be outside in short sleeves and a dress. Emily could turn around and go back home, but that would mean admitting her mother had been right to yell at her to get a coat.
Her fingers ached as they clasped Grandma's key, and she longed for the new mittens she'd gotten just that morning for her birthday. But those, like her coat and her nice, warm boots were guarded by the evil witch back home.
Okay, fine, her mom wasn't an evil witch. She knew that. She still wasn't going back.
She slid one foot onto the sidewalk, then the next. Part of her wanted to run, but Ian Masterson had slipped on an icy sidewalk just last week. The whole fifth grade knew that because the whole fifth grade had signed his cast.
So she walked slowly despite the cold dark. The streetlights seemed dimmer than usual beneath a thick layer of clouds that blocked all help from the moon. A nearby bird called out in what sounded more like a death moan than birdsong and Emily shivered.
Grandma's house wasn't far. Just a block down a pleasant and welcoming street that, with every step Emily took, assumed more and more of an eerie countenance.
Another bird cried, closer this time. Emily stopped moving, letting the wind whip at her skirt as she scanned the dimness around her.
There! A flutter to the left, then a blurry whoosh of motion right in front of her as something flew across the road to land on top of the Alberbroch's shed. It sat, a shadow barely visible on a backdrop of dark, and stared straight at Emily.
Were you supposed to run from birds? Or would they chase you like dogs? Emily couldn't remember, but she was frozen in place anyway. Maybe the bird would eat her. Or maybe she'd be turned in a snowman and the Alberbroch family would find her in the morning when it was time for school and work.
The bird called out again, then flung itself back into the air and raced away
Emily tried to laugh, but it came out as more of a sob. She told herself to act her age – she was eleven now! – and hurried along, moving from the sidewalk into people's grass so she could run.
She didn't even think about slowing until she reached sight of Grandma's and spotted her standing on the porch. There wasn't enough ice in the world to keep her from rushing as she scrambled up the steps and flung herself into Grandma's waiting arms.
“What's wrong, muffin?”
As soon as Grandma's warmth hit her, a feeling of foolishness rose up inside her, so she shook her head and mumbled, “I'm just happy to see you.”
“Uh huh.” Grandma didn't sound like she believed that, but one of Emily's favorite things about her was that she never pushed things like Mom did. “Well, let's get you inside.”
She turned to the house and put her hand on the handle, like she'd forgotten being locked out.
“I've got your key!” Emily said, holding it up in a hand that trembled only a little.
Grandma smiled and took the key, but didn't put it in the door.
“I just want you to know,” she said as she turned the handle of a door that was completely unlocked. “That this was your mother's idea.”
And there Mom was inside, under a banner that read, “Happy Birthday!”