On a Winter's Eve

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On a Winter's Eve Page 2

by Chris L. Adams

the living room, talking to himself, discarding idea after idea. Mother had the girls on the couch across from the fireplace, trying to calm them. Finally she looked up.

  “What are we going to do, John? We probably don’t have much time, do we? What will become of the children?”

  She started crying again. He stared at her for a moment, his face ashen, looking suddenly older and less powerful than he’d always appeared in my eyes.

  Father cursed. He was a religious man, but I heard him say things that night that made my ears burn hot with embarrassment, things that conjured the expectation of Heavenly condemnation and retribution in the form of lightings and thunderous concatenations. Finally, he managed to calm down.

  “We’ll make our stand right here where we’re at, in this room.”

  He scanned the walls and floors as he talked, apparently sizing everything up.

  “We won’t venture from the house until mornin’. If we make it through the night we’re leavin’ at dawn. Where - I haven’t the foggiest. I may have some relatives on my mother’s side still livin’ in Virginia, I don’t know. We’ll pack what little we can tonight and be ready to leave. We’re firing the house, and then we’re leavin’ and we’re never returnin’. Do you understand, Jen? This place can never again be our home.”

  Mother nodded her head as father spoke; tears poured down her face but she was otherwise silent. Things were progressing so rapidly I didn’t know what to think. Father issued instructions to which I only half listened. We were all scared to death of the awful unknown.

  Whatever was out there my parents apparently knew of it – mother mentioned the ‘old tales’. As for us kids, we knew nothing other than that something scary was outside in the woods. I, being the oldest of the five of us, felt submerged in a terrible aura of confusion and so knew the young ones must be as well—


  My head jerked to face father with a start.

  “Yes sir?”

  “Are you listening to me, son? Our lives depend on everyone doing what they’re told! I’m going to the storeroom for the kerosene. I want you to gather all the lamps from everyone’s room and bring them all in here. Do you understand? We’ll need every one of ‘em. Now go! And be quick about it. And don’t linger in front of the windows!”

  “But - what is out there?” I asked frantically, feeling a surge of panic rise into my throat.

  “Hell, son. Beasts straight outta Hell are out there!”

  And then he was gone, racing down the halls to the other end of the house to the little storeroom. Mother and the girls huddled together in the center of the room where father had apparently told them to gather while I hadn’t been listening. Jack and John were quickly slamming the shutters on the inside of the house, covering the windows. That old house had shutters on the inside and the outside, we having to close them several times a year against the bears.

  Father didn’t dare let us leave the house to fasten the ones on the outside.

  As I left the boys’ room with two oil lamps in my hands I heard a crash. I stopped dead in my tracks just outside the room. Glass was still tinkling and falling – glass from the window John had been attempting to shutter - the same window he was at the moment being dragged through, kicking and screaming. I dropped the lamps and started forward but it was over before I could cross the short distance to the un-shuttered window that let onto the front porch.

  John was gone.

  An Attack

  Through the shattered window panes an icy wind howled.

  Snow promptly drifted over the floor, hissing as it blew into the open hearth. Smoke from the fireplace weaved through the room, blown hither and thither by the storm’s gale. The frigid outside air roared through the busted window as though the entire arctic were being pumped into the room by a billows worked by polar bears and eskimeaux.

  Mother and the girls were screaming in frantic, irrational fear. Jack had just finished lashing the shutters on a window; he ran screaming to mother. Though my knees shook with terror to do it, I ran to the window through which John had disappeared. I took one quick look then slammed the shutters and lashed them tight. I saw enough in that single glance to blast my sanity forever.

  My eyes wide with mindless fear, I ran mechanically back to where I’d dropped the two lamps, stifling a cry as I did so. I grabbed them up, thankful they hadn’t broken when they hit the floor. Luckily, they had both landed base-first on one of the many thick rugs mother insisted on having in every room to cover the hardwood floors in which cracks and gaps abounded.

  Bedlam ensued when father returned carrying two five-gallon tin cans of lamp oil. Mother had been reduced to a state of incoherency, her face streaked in tears, her beautiful features warped with the sobs of a mother who has just lost her young. My young sisters, Megan and Shelly, were crying while my baby brother screamed and gibbered on the floor.

  And I - I couldn’t get a word to pass from my throat. All I could do was stare at father with my mouth hanging open as he yelled questions at everyone impartially. I have no idea why I wasn’t shrieking like the others – mayhap because I was the elder. I really don’t know. I always did try to put on a brave face for the young ones.

  Father finally succeeded in quieting everyone down, everyone but poor Jack whom yet lay in a gibbering pile on the floor beside the couch. Mother quieted the girls as best she may but was still in danger of succumbing to despair herself at any moment. I saw her bite her finger so hard it bled, as if focusing on the pain would dull the dread in her heart.

  Father looked at me sternly. I squared my shoulders, and tried to lift my chin a trifle. My father was a strict man with a hair-trigger temper. Growing up there were times he terrified me. I recall vividly his savage snarls as he repeatedly smashed his hatchet down into the bear’s forehead that one time. But just right then it wasn’t father I feared, but—


  “Yes, father?”

  “What did you see? What happened to John? Where is your brother?”

  He stopped for a moment. I struggled to answer his questions. I knew if I didn’t say what I had to, right then, I never would.

  “I saw John dragged through that window, pa. The glass cut him to pieces. There’s blood all over the casement, and—“

  I could see the mention of the blood cut him deeply, but in my staring eyes that liquid crimson was all I could see – I couldn’t stop describing the scene.

  “…blood all over the window, all across the porch, all over the snow. He was covered in it—“

  “What else?”

  In father’s eyes were wells of fear and anguish. But his mustache bristled with a barely suppressed rage. The rage was not meant for me, however, but for whatever thing lurked out there in the snowy night. His question severed some connection my mind had to that nightmarish vision hovering in my mind’s eye.

  “Just beyond John, I saw that same pair of yellow eyes,” I stammered. “They were glaring at me, pa, like they wanted more than anything to drag me into the woods - into the cold. I couldn’t see its body. I couldn’t even see the hands that was holdin’ John… It was like an outline of – something. I’m not sure what.”

  I took a breath to calm myself. It didn’t work, ending rather in a gasping sob I could in no wise stifle.

  “I ran to the window, then. I saw John being drug by one foot through the snow. He wasn’t moving. I think he was dead, pa. I still couldn’t see the thing, just that dim outline. Right before I slammed the shutters the eyes reappeared, hovering above John like as how it’d turned its head - to look at me! I slammed the shutters and locked’em and ran over to pick up the lamps…”

  Father choked out a sob, a sound I’d never heard issue from him before. “Ah, God - not my John!”

  Just that one phrase – that was it. Father had never been a man to wear his heart on his sleeve and bandy his emotions about in the open air.
His softer sentiments he expressed in his smiles when he would beam upon one of us who did something he found pleasing – and his affection was mirrored in his eyes. His wrath was a different matter, it having always been obvious as a tornado.

  We went through the rest of the house, then, father and I, gathering all the lamps we could find, including the spares. We were quick about it, and in a couple of minutes were back in the living room which had already begun to warm up again. There was still a lot of gray smoke hovering near the ceiling and the place smelled of smoldering wood and soot.

  We filled the lamps with oil and started lighting them. Suddenly I remembered another and, with a quick word to father I ran to fetch a lamp mother used in the kitchen. She always left it hanging by the cupboard above the sink.

  I was only gone for a few seconds when, as I returned through the foyer to cross into the living room, I heard another infernal crash.

  And the screaming began again.

  This time the things entered the house. They made off with little Jack and the two girls in less time than it takes to tell about it. Mother lay balled up in the floor, alternately wailing and screaming their names. Her arms were outstretched and one fist beat the floor in a slow rhythm of protest.

  “My babies! My babies!”

  I’ll never forget her cries after those beasts took those three youngest of her children from her. My own senses reeled with a mixture of anguish, fear and

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