On a winters eve, p.1
On a Winter's Eve,
By Chris L. Adams
Written by Chris L. Adams
All Rights Reserved
About the Author
List of Works
The Back of the Book
This story is dedicated to childhood – I hope yours was bright and magical.
Influenced by pulp icons H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, On A Winter's Eve was created in an attempt to capture the magic of the 30s and 40s - a time when the great pulp writers were cranking out their classics and fussing about the half-penny per word offered by stingy editors for works that would go on to define the age.
On A Winter's Eve is a short story for anyone who appreciates the golden era of pulp authoring, an era when readers were still afraid of things that go bump in the night. It was, in many ways, a simpler time when folks were apt to lose themselves in a dime novel as they devoured the written material of men whose time on Earth was often tragically cut short, but whose bodies of works are yet appreciated today by avid fans starving for more.
I know - I'm one of ‘em.
I am writing this with a shaky hand by the light of my mother’s old oil lamp which is all that remains as a link to a night that burns in my memory like a firebrand.
To neighbors and social peers I must appear a lunatic. And while it is true I have occasionally had myself institutionalized (when the nightmares threatened to consume me even during waking hours) I maintain that I am no madman.
I admit that over the years I have frequented every kind of charlatan one might imagine, from psychiatrists and mesmers to diviners and occultists; even the counsel of mediums and witches I sought. They were, one and all, vain attempts to be free of a slavery to fears most have never experienced and could neither conceive nor understand.
Rather, I have discovered that madness does not always lurk in the mind in the guise of medical disorder, but quite often in the mere memory of events from one’s youth – in the recollection of drear nights best forgotten.
I am now a very old man and have never spoken of, nor written a word about, those events which took place when I was but a boy. But the horror has steadfastly remained for all these years. As time draws short for me, which I feel it is, quickly and inexorably, my fear increases rather than diminishes with its passage.
When this writing is complete I shall seal it in an envelope and take it by train to a neighboring city which I can reach in an hour’s ride; there I shall mail it to one of the leading newspapers whose headquarters is located on the other side of the country. I shall mail it un-named and un-addressed so I might remain safely anonymous. It is my hope that, by telling my tale, I may lose some of this supernatural dread I have lived with in the telling of it.
I do not know, but I shall soon see.
The night, as I recall it, possessed the cold and bluster of an ice age. The old oaks cast their shadows on several feet of freshly fallen snow, and the wind blowing through the cold, brittle branches of the surrounding forest carried flakes as large as doubloons. What low lying clouds I could make out sped violently through the sky as might a silk scarf caught in a hurricane.
The trees, caught in the wintery gusts, added greatly to the mystic setting. Their huge bodies swayed in the wind, casting shadows that appeared, to my young eyes at least, as twisting talons, slithering over the snowy surface, poised to grasp whatsoever soft, warm body they happened across.
And yet a certain amount of comfort could be derived from the blizzard, were one’s senses subtle enough to detect it. The blanket of snow dampened all sound save the wind whipping about the house, appearing out the window as a giant comforter thrown over the Earth as a thick and downy blanket, enwrapping even the trees in its folds, deep and billowy. The giant snowflakes, falling mutely in the outer dark, gave one a sense of security, as of hiding in that thick fold of white.
And the wind that would have smothered the words as they left your mouth were you to yell into it tended to lull one to sleep, much as a train in the distance; except when it screamed through cracks in the house, that is. Then it sounded like a cacophony of daemons.
The hour had crept far beyond my bedtime. Nestled deep in their beds and quilts my siblings wooed Morpheus and dreamed dreams while I tossed and turned, kept wakeful by the incessant howl of the icy blasts of wind outside. As I lay thus my father came down the stairs to stoke the fireplace. He carried in several large pieces of wood from the back porch, through the kitchen and into the living room which was adjacent to that in which we slept – or tried to sleep.
After he crept back up the stairs, trying to be quiet so he wouldn't waken us, I slipped out of my covers and ran to the hearth, enjoying the crackle of fresh wood on the fire...wood that sizzled and popped with fresh snow that began melting immediately within the dancing flames. Outside, the storm surged powerfully, producing eerie, mournful cries as it ripped like a fury through the cracks and crevices of our old cabin.
My face glowing from the roaring fire I turned about, now enjoying the heat on my back as I stared out the window into the dark night. I don’t know at what point it was, as I looked out that window into the blizzard, that I noticed something, with an intensity equal to my own, staring into the window across from the fireplace as I stared out of it.
I remember watching the snow, shredded by the gale force winds, drift in huge piles around the trees. The rutted road, paved with stone from the nearby river, stone that sank and must be replaced each year, had been rendered utterly invisible; the same with father’s truck which lay buried beneath feet of piled up drift. I watched the play of moonlight, coming in quick dancing motions as the clouds drifted across its face where they sailed rapidly above the bleak, snowy landscape.
And then those eyes…
They glowed from the outer darkness, just inside the marge of the forest. They were narrow, yellow slits, each several inches across, floating above the drifting snow, watching me. Whatever body the thing had was invisible through the darkness and the wind torn snow. It seemed as though those terrible eyes hovered in midair, glaring in malignancy toward the house – glaring in malignancy toward me…
I stared in horror-struck fascination, unable to move or speak, unable to draw a breath. I could not so much as turn my head for my awful enslavement to those eyes. The snow began descending more heavily; I lost sight of them a time or two in the icy whiteout of the blizzard, and then they disappeared in a gust of wind-torn snow, and didn’t immediately return.
And I screamed and screamed…
The events immediately following are hazy and incoherent in my memory. I seem to recall my brothers and sisters running into the living room, talking at once, shouting questions. I recall father and mother rushing down the stairs, father grabbing me and pulling me away from the window; it seems as one mesmerized I had unwittingly left the fireplace and now stood nearly touching the ice-rimed panes of glass.
Questions flew from all sides, from my younger brothers, Jack and John, from my mother. My sisters were crying. Their words I cannot for the life of me recall, nor do I know what reply I made them.
What I do remember is my mother, after everyone had quieted down at my father’s repeated requests, turning to him, her face ashen with fear, her lip trembling.
“John, he said he saw eyes - staring from the wood!”
Mother’s name was Jennifer, but father always called her Jen except during the infrequent argument.
“The old tales…”
“Hush, Jennifer – I have to think!”
It seemed odd to me at the time they didn’t doubt my words, never seeming to consider I might have fabricated the tale, or had possibly fallen prey to an overactive imagination. What I described they took in earnest, as if it were God’s own truth.
My words seemed to have stricken them with instant, searing fear. I had never seen my father turn that ghastly pale shade before in my life, and I had watched him fight off a great big cinnamon bear once with only a hatchet while he and I were deep in the encroaching wood.
And then there was my poor mama. She shook so badly her teeth were chattering. And it couldn’t have been from the winter cold, for the living room had heated up nicely from the freshly stoked fire.
She cried then, trying to reassure the girls but having a poor time of it because she couldn’t seem to get her own self under control. Father paced back and forth, a thing I’d rarely seen him do except in times of serious peril. The last time had been years before, when mother had been pregnant with my baby sister. There had been complications, and the city was too far away…
He mumbled to himself now.
“Gun won’t do no good,” I heard him say.
And then, “Fire! It’s got to be fire! No! No, the wind would blow out any torch before you could get at them, and then—“
Father yet stalked back and forth across the breadth of
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