prior chapter here (yup, it’s been awhile!)
The north wind roared down from the Canadian uplands, throwing drifts of snow ahead of it like so much sugared frosting. The hills of Western Massachusetts were coated by midnight, as the trees shivered in the gale. Sneaky fingers of cold, dry air puffed down the chimney, crept through cracks around windows and doors, and made Sarah and Moma huddle close to the woodstove. The electric had gone off hours ago, the strong gusts of wind likely tearing down branches and power lines. Thankfully they had propane for the cookstove, and plenty of food put up. The cold cellar would hold their perishables through until the coolers came back on. It wasn’t at all uncommon for this to happen in the winter.
Sarah was glad she had finished chopping wood earlier this afternoon. A goodly pile of wood was laid in here nearer to the stove, but later she would have to go outside and haul in a few armloads for the morning. It was cold enough already that she was dreading the task. With the wind scouring everything in its path, some areas were bare ground, while other area’s piled on deeply. Snow fetched up in the leeward side of the barn, 6 inches deep or more. Finishing her tea, she grabbed up her barn coat, her scarf, and her hat. Nearer to the door were her “wood gloves”, thick leather that would not let her take any slivers in tender flesh from the raw wood.
“You sure we don’t have enough for the morning already?” Moma hated her to go out, though Sarah wasn’t sure if it was opening and closing the door and letting drafts in, or worry that she’d be blown to Boston!
“Moma, if I don’t, we’ll be chipping ice off the toilet by morning. When the wind is blown out, the temp is supposed to drop below zero. If I wake up in the middle of the night, I can stoke the stove then. And then we’ll be short and have to go out in our jammies.” She shivered at the thought.
“Well, be careful out there, girl. I’m going to bed. Sleep well, my darling.” Standing on tiptoe, Moma rubbed her cheek against Sarah’s, then whispered “I love you, honey,” before turning and heading down the hall to her bed, the glow of her flashlight brightening the darkened hallway.
Sarah tugged her scarf up over her nose and mouth, until she could barely see. Despite the storm and the night, snow did curious things in the dark…there was plenty of “snow-glow” to see by. She stepped into the mudroom, and girded herself. Opening the door, the wind tugged it out of her hands and slammed it back shut. She had to lean all her weight on it to get outside. What an assache it was going to be to bring the wood in! She’d not be able to carry many pieces if she had to manhandle the door every damn time. She trudged down the stone path to the neat stacks of cordwood.
Pausing, she went on full alert.
She thought she heard…something. The wind howled viciously around the corner of the house. Maybe that was it. Or maybe it was a cougar. People claimed to see them up here from time to time, despite the fact that they’d been extirpated a hundred years ago. Still, she doubted one would be out and hunting in this sort of weather; everything was hunkered down in their dens, except, of course, for her.
She walked alert for any signs of movement. All she saw was the skirling motion of snow caught in the wild eddies of the wind. She grabbed 3, 4, 6 pieces of wood, then turned. Had there been something there? In the shadow of the house? Her heart kicked up a notch and she held the pile loosely, except for one piece that she could brandish as a weapon, if need be.
It watched her from the shadows. She had nearly seen him, coming out of the house unexpectedly as she had. The bipeds had never come out of their den before, into the darkness, not since the weather had turned more temperate.
He loved the wailing winds here, the sharp bite of the air, the swirling snowflakes, all reminding him of a home he had never been to. Yet his ancestral memories were of just such a place as this.
He watched as she froze again. He wondered, for a moment, if she would come to him, but watching the nervous way she held the chunk of fibrous material that she had been beating at earlier in the day, he could see that she was in hunting mode, and not sexing. Yet he could not resist studying her. Remaining still, she would not see him, as he blended in with his surroundings. He knew that she used this as fuel to warm her hut, understanding that she was terribly weaker than he.
Knowing that made his tentacles curl in mirth. He’d begun inserting thoughts into the heads of the bipeds. Thoughts that would begin to stir them into a state of preparedness when he would be ready to enter their domain, and interact with them. That time was almost here.
Stepping onto the porch, she dropped her wood, and made a quick sprint back to the woodpile for a second armload. This time she carried one of the pieces with her…just in case. She felt silly, but also safer with it. The shiver wasn’t caused only by the cold, but by the persistent feeling of being watched.
It took several trips, bracing the door with her foot, to get all the wood inside the mudroom. It shut with a fierce thud, and she was doubly glad to be inside. The mudroom was cold enough to see her breath in, and the thermometer on the wall read 18 degrees.
Shortly she had her wood stacked inside, and a cup of tea brewing. She had a great book to read about time travel on her kindle, and had warmed a rectangle of soapstone on the woodstove. Wrapping it in flannel, she carried the warming stone to her bed to put her feet upon.
She fell asleep with the light on.