Twelfth Winter

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic

We never see the real monsters for what they are.

My twelfth winter was the longest, coldest winter I've ever known. In a small town like mine, people don't handle seasonal depression too well. Winter #12 drove people half-crazy, with the looming threat of famine, and not seeing the light of day for such a long time. The kids in school had all kinds of horror stories about man-eating beasts in such-and-such part of town, and yellow-eyed Yetis hiding in the snow-covered hills, preying on unsuspecting sled-riders. They were the kind of urban myths that I, a mature junior high student, could usually just brush off. But the stories seemed more and more believable as the winter wore out its welcome all the way into mid-April, and my famished mind lost its reason.

And then, on a particularly brutal winter day, I came home from school and found remains in my own backyard. A thick lock of auburn hair lay half-buried atop the snow, and close examination revealed a trail of similar hair clumps. They led to the northern woods, just behind the row of houses that included mine. My twelve-year-old mind sensed the danger and, with it, the adventure of pursuing a great, hair-shedding mythical beast. I could save lives, I thought. And so, I stole my father's hunting rifle and kept it by my side each night as I slept. I would wait for the beast to return, and when it did, I would be ready.

Four days after my initial discovery, I woke, startled, in the middle of the night to the distant sound of a child's scream. It came from outside, from the forest. I scrambled out of bed, grabbed my rifle and climbed out my first-story bedroom window. The snow beneath me hit my bare feet like needles all over. The icy wind bit through my cotton pajamas, stinging my shoulders and legs. It was ominously dark outside, and I had to rely on instinct alone to lead me to the woods. I was as quiet and stealthy as a skinny, gun-bearing youth could manage as I felt my way into the woods, brushing cold fingers along the bark of trees as I went. The screams persisted all the while, drawing nearer and nearer. I kept a death grip on the rifle, ready to fire, albeit clumsily, at any sign of movement.

Then, twenty feet away, I saw a figure move behind a tree. It was coming toward me slowly, like a monster in a horror movie. It walked on all fours, limping, and I just stood there, paralyzed with fear, until the snap of branches under its feet brought me back to reality. My fingers stumbled for the trigger, and I shot. In that moment, I prayed to God I'd killed whatever kind of sick beast it was, that the bullet went straight to its heart. I expected the monster to growl a great growl of defeat and tumble over, but as the figure collapsed, the sound that came from its mouth was unmistakably human.

It was the scream of a child, surely the same scream I had heard all along. My heart took a great plunge in utter horror, and I ran the remaining ten feet between the fallen girl and me. She lay face-down, her quiet sobbing and moaning muffled by the snow. Without thinking, I shook her hard, as if movement could bring her back to life somehow, but she surprised me. "Stop! Please!" Her voice was pained and desperate, older than I'd thought. She was probably only a few years younger than me.

In that moment, I became aware of how juvenile and foolish I must have looked. There I stood in my airplane pajamas, wielding a gun bigger than myself. My brave soldier face twisted into a grimace, and I started blubbering like a small child. I wanted my mother there with me. She'd know what to do and what to say. I really wish I knew what to say because somehow "I'm sorry" didn't seem to suffice in that situation. It was pitiful. I cried so hard, I didn't even hear the first distant call: "Bailey!" I caught the sound the second time, though, and cleared the crying from my throat, ready to yell as loudly as I could, "She's right heee---!" Bailey managed to roll herself over, reach up and smack me hard across the mouth. "He's drunk! Don't you let him find me!"

We lay side by side, silent and still, until the sounds trailed off and retreated deep into the woods, and we knew that the real monster was gone. Then it got real quiet, and we stayed like that, not saying a word, until she said slowly and quietly, "I'd-a never made it to the North Pole anyways." I stared at her curiously. "I don't reckon it's a place you can just run to," she continued. I agreed with her, and again we were silent. I listened to our breaths until it was just mine I could hear. She was so still.

That bitter cold night of my twelfth winter, I stayed with her forever, it seemed, just brushing the burrs out of her auburn hair with my frostbitten fingers and noticing the bald spots on her scalp where the hair had been pulled. I watched my slow breaths in the air and imagined I could see hers, too. I stayed there with her until the fresh falling snow covered our tracks and the crimson-tainted snow beneath her. I stayed there until it covered both of us.

Submitted: January 12, 2014

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