Story by: Amy
Photo by: Octagon
Friday, July 20, 2012
"The last time the lake froze over I was your age,” the girl’s grandmother said, her cloudy eyes tilted in the direction of the window even though she couldn’t really see it anymore.
The girl sighed and settled onto the small wooden chair next to her grandmother’s bed. This was the beginning of her grandmother’s favorite story, the one she told her every time winter settled in around them again. To her grandmother it was a memory, a truth she clung to with the tenacity of a drowning woman, but to the girl, her mother and practically everyone else it was the ramblings of an old woman prone to asking the same question over and over and wandering from the house in nothing more than her nightgown most days no matter the weather. The girl ran her fingers over the patchwork quilt on her grandmother’s bed and tried not to sigh so loudly that the old woman would hear it. It was the third time she’d heard the story this evening. The girl knew it was because the lake was frozen over again-the first time in eighty years. No one had told the old woman and yet somehow she’d sensed it and spent much of the day in a state of high agitation. The only thing that kept her calm was repeating her story, and so the girl listened each time and didn’t try to stop her.
“He came over the ice. Normally Winter Beasts like him can’t cross water, but when it’s solid...” Her grandmother lifted her cup of tea to her face. She mouthed the side of it until she was confident she could tilt it without spilling. “I saw him the night he crossed, out there on the blackest part of the ice. He shone silver in the moonlight, his hair tipped in icicles. He was all sharp angles and long limbs. Terrifying to watch, scrabbling like a spider on skates. I hid under the bed that night. The next morning we found out that the Parson’s son went missing and I knew right away who done it. One child went missing every night after that. Each one turned up dead a few days later with their eyes...gone. Wasn’t long and every one of us kids were locked up tight come sundown, our fathers standing watch at the foot of our beds and our mothers murmuring prayers by candlelight. But it didn’t help. Somehow he still managed to steal them. Twenty in all before he made his way here. To me.”
The old woman coughed and her tea cup slid across its saucer. The girl jumped up, grabbing the cup and saucer just before both landed on the quilt. She set them on the bedside table and tucked the old woman in tighter, pulling the blankets to her chin. The temperature was dropping despite the healthy fire in the fireplace. The girl shivered a little and tucked her hands inside the sleeves of her sweater.
“What did he do with the eyes?” the girl asked, not because she was curious, she’d heard the story enough to know the answer to her question but because the old woman expected her to ask and would get very cross if she didn’t.
“Winter Beasts are frozen inside. The only thing that brings them warmth is innocence. They crave it, nourish themselves with it. Innocence lives in the eyes you know. It’s that light…that twinkle.” And the girl did know. Very well. Her grandmother had made sure of it. She took a deep breath and shifted on her chair. How much longer before her grandmother grew tired and quieted?
“No one believed me when I told them about him. No one wants to believe in creatures, do they? Easier to blame every horror on those we can punish, not those we’ll never be able to pin down. They hung a man that lived down by the docks for the murders. He was found with one of the kid’s coats one night. He said he’d only just found it down by the lake, but no one believed him. They didn’t want to believe him. But I did. Course no one wanted to hear what I had to say. Not after that other night.”
“When you lost your sight,” the girl said, her eyes resting on her grandmother’s face. She tried to avoid her grandmother’s gaze when she could. It was disconcerting to see the spill of milky white there. Sometimes the girl could swear that they looked like two misted over crystal balls. In some weird way she was sure if she stared at them long enough she would see something of her future in them that she wouldn’t like.
“He came for me. Woulda took me too if I hadn’t done what I did. They all thought I was crazy, but I knew, I knew it was the only way to survive. The lye worked quickly, but oh it was painful!” The old woman rubbed at her eyes as if even now they stung and the girl squirmed a bit in her seat. “You have to be brave to survive. You have to be willing to do what’s necessary.” She leaned forward and somehow her sightless eyes found the girls’. It made the girls insides tremble. This was a new string of words added to her usual recitation. Her grandmother seemed painfully awake and aware. “He’s coming for you now-the frozen lake points to it. I think I can hear him out on the ice. Do you hear it too?” The girl heard nothing but the ticking of the mantle clock. She was beginning to feel scared, not of some Winter Boy scrambling over the ice and towards her grandmother’s cottage, but of her grandmother.
“I don’t want to hear any more now,” the girl said and she backed off of her chair, nearly upending it in the process. “You just need to rest.”
“Listen! He’ll come for you first! Because of me. You have to be prepared. Where’s the lye? We’ll get it together, I’ll help you.” Her grandmother sat up and inched her way to the edge of the bed.
The old woman had finally lost what little sense she had and the girl was terrified. She ran to the door and through it, locking it from the outside like she sometimes had to when her grandmother was in one of her wandering moods. She leaned against it, too scared of the state her grandmother was in to rely on the lock alone. Inside the bedroom her grandmother shuffled along the edges of the room. She was feeling her way towards the door. The girl began to cry.
“He’s coming. Mark my words. I can help you. I love you just let me help you,” the old woman said from just behind the door, her voice breaking on the words. But the girl stayed where she was. She wished hard that her mother would come home soon. Outside the wind picked up, howling a warning around the house as something began to tap lightly on the window glass.
Story by: Amy
Story by: Amy