Saturday, March 28, 2020

Only Pearls Flowing In The Sky



The bare, white tree trunks created long shadows on the snow glistening in the winter night. My feet could not carry anymore and I dropped onto my knees in the frosty and hardened snow. My ten-year-old feeble body sunk in deep. Above me the blue and green northern lights swayed in the sky like a slowly flowing river. Through it, the silvery stars twinkled like pearls on the bottom of the river. Some of us believe that the souls of the passed live in northern lights. Would I become one of those lights? I looked down to my hands that were turning blue. They were stained by red blood. The smell of freezing air and the stench of blood mixed together and I could not tell whether it was really cold or burning hot.

Blood was dripping from my chest and stomach on to the pure white snow. The surrounding forest was quiet and serene, unmoving. My breath escaped into the air in a swirling cloud. Then the rising tree trunks around me started dancing as if they were falling down on me, bowing their tops towards me. The world spun around and turned black. Somewhere in the forest the witch started playing her drum again. This was the first time I could hear it, though, but my dad had insisted that she was real for many years. Dad had told me that the witch’s playing had made him go insane. I was blind and fell face forward into the frozen snow. I was sure, I was going to die like my parents and my sister had died a while ago.

I was wrong, though. I woke up in the hospital, wrapped in bandages. The medicine made my head feel blurry. Beside my bed, there sat a middle-aged police man with a rough face and a young female officer next to him.

I know you must still be in shock but we need to ask you a few questions. Do you think, you can answer them?” I stared at the man unable to speak.

We need to know who did this”, the woman said and pointed at my injuries with an empathetic look on her face. I shook my head. I could not speak, I did not know how to speak anymore.

They did not give up. They came to see me everyday but I never found my voice. How could I have told them what had really happened. My whole family had been butchered. I was the only survivor. And it all could have been avoided if some outsider had known what was really going on behind the closed doors…

One week earlier

The porcelain family heirloom plate made a loud sound as it broke into pieces when it hit the floor. Mom’s hands were shaking when she bent down to pick the pieces scattered on the ragged cotton carpet. She gathered them inside her beige apron as I stood in the doorway and held my breath. We were both listening to hear if dad had heard the sound. Yes, he had.

Dad rushed into the kitchen and looked down to mom who sat on the floor with her lap full of broken pieces of porcelain. I did not know what to expect. Would he yell and be angry? Maybe he would burst into laughter and break another plate as if it was a game. Maybe he would start to cry and complain that mom was mistreating him. That was how dad was. Unpredictable.

This time dad settled on spitting on the floor and looking at me with a wide grin on his face showing all of his teeth, yellowed by excessive tobacco use.

Look at what a clumsy woman I married. She’s no good.” Then dad kicked at the door frame and walked away. I nervously plucked the lint from my shirt with my fingers. Tears glistened in mom’s eyes. She had been scared so bad a sharp piece had slipped in her hand and there was now a thin line of blood glimmering on the palm of her hand.


Dad beat mom up often and did not care that me and my three-year-old sister had to watch. I never could fathom why mom did not even try to defend herself. Dad could yell profanities, beat her, pull her hair but mom never said a word. She was pathetic, like a deer petrified from the fear even though the hunter’s gun was pointed right towards its chest. Mom just sat and waited in silence. She did everything dad ever asked, catering even to his weirdest whims without ever questioning them. Sometimes I asked mom why she put up with all of it. She just kept repeating:

You’re too young to understand. I take care of your father. He’s not okay. You see, he’s sick mentally. The sickness has been passed down in his family for generations. We need to help him. He can’t control himself, so we need to forgive and be patient.”

Mom was right that dad was not okay. It did not take long for anybody to figure out he was not like others. Dad insisted for years that there was a witch in the forest, surrounding our house, and the witch was playing a drum and the music drove dad insane. He could get up in the middle of the night and venture into the forest in his underwear to “silence the bloody witch”. I could never hear the sound of any drum. When I asked mom whether she heard it, she simply shook her head and for a passing moment I could see fear in her eyes.

Dad had many states of mind. In one moment he could be a lovely and warm person, funny and light-hearted. Sometimes he was mean and bad-tongued, sometimes cold and stern. Then sometimes he was violent and short-tempered. Sometimes dad slept for days. The surrounding forest felt thicker and thicker everyday as if swallowing our family inside until the world around us did not exist anymore. Mom home-schooled me and so I never left the house. I stared out the window at the black and thin trees that slowly turned into slender and feeble old men in the snowy night. They were like eternal soldiers guarding our red, wooden house. It was as if the winter was everlasting. The temperature would never rise and the snow never melted away.


It was my tenth birthday. No one remembered my birthday. No one congratulated me, I got no breakfast in the bed, no cake, no presents. Outside the howling wind tore trees down by the roots.
Windows rattled and the rooftop creaked. There was an ominous smell of a snow storm coming down the chimney and mixing with the ash in the fireplace. Dad got really mad at mom when he found out that mom had gone to the city by herself. Mom claimed that she had only bought a sack of potatoes and some bread but dad kept counting the coins and saying that a lot more money was missing. He beat mom real good.

By the nightfall, the storm cleared. Big, calm, pale white moon rose in the sky. I was just falling to sleep when mom came into my room.

Here, I brought you this, darling”, she whispered as she raised a little present in her hands. Her one eye had swollen almost shut and turned painfully-looking upside down in her head. I felt afraid staring at the glistening and bulging white ball. The present was wrapped in beautiful pink wrapping paper and tied with a red bow. Mom sat on my bed and offered the present to me again.

Don’t be afraid, darling. Mommy’s alright. Now go on and open your present.”

I reached and grabbed the present, tore it open. In it I found a pretty, yellow dress with ruffles. I suddenly felt like words got stuck in my throat. This was why mom was now half-blind. She wanted to give me a gift. She had not forgotten my birthday, after all. Dad had probably forbidden her to get me a birthday present and that was why she kept the dress a secret. She had spent all that missing money on this. Tears burned in my eyes.

The next morning it was as if the sky itself was dying. The horizon was red as if blood was pouring down to earth. It was the day my family died.


The disgusting hospital stench left me with no appetite. I had fought for my life for eight days. Medicine took away the pain but it could not banish the horrifying memories that haunted me. I could not get the image of my mom lying on the floor in a pool of blood, that kept growing, out of my head. I could see how she reached her hand towards me but I had to turn my back to her and run. I saw my dad lying in a bed upstairs, his body pierced by dozens and dozens of cuts left by the knife. And my sister… She had looked as if she was just sleeping in her little bed. She had been stabbed only once, that had been enough. The chubby cheeks had turned pale and she reminded a porcelain doll.

At first, the police stationed a guard outside my hospital room, in case the murderer would come after me to finish what was started. The police did not have a clue what had happened. Only when a week had passed and it was clear that I would survive, they came to me and said:

Your wounds. There’s no defensive wounds on your body. As a matter of fact, the doctors tell us that it seems your cuts were most likely self-inflicted...”

The doctors were not wrong. My mom had not been wrong either. My dad was sick and it was hereditary. I simply could not stand and watch my mom being beaten anymore. I could not bear that my sister would grow up in the hellish nightmare I had grown up in. I had survived ten long years. The only way out of insanity was death. That is why a laced my parents’ evening tea with sleeping pills. Dad had drank a lot and slept tight. He was unable to as much as raise his hand when I stabbed him over and over. His fat belly stuck out under the shirt. It juggled up and down and turned more and more red when the knife sank into his flesh.

I had lost control completely with dad. But when I looked at my sister, I could not do the same to her. She was crying in her little bed, staring at me with huge eyes filled with terror. She did not fight back when I slowly pushed the knife into her chest.

Mom was still standing but she did not fight back either. She did not beg. She just reached her hand in an effort to touch me but I turned around and left her bleed to death. I had broken two knives already. I grabbed another one, smaller one with a sawed edge and hit myself in the chest but my hand refused to push the knife deep. I slashed my chest and stomach unable to make myself inflict fatal wounds. I gave up and started making my way deep into the forest. Then I heard it, finally I could hear it! The witch was playing her drum. It drove me insane.

Around me the trees created shadows on to the snow and above me flowed northern lights like a bright river. The stars were shining like pearls on the bottom of the river. They were like forgotten souls screaming in the vacuum of space. It was as if three new stars were born right before my eyes. They were only pearls flowing in the sky now.


Saturday, December 14, 2019

The Birds On The Power Line



September 23rd, 1990

I remember how dark-gray-feathered birds stared at me bobbing their heads from side to side curiously. The rays of the setting sun reflected from their silvery white eyes, it looked like little candles burning in the night. I was standing in the field, dancing on top of dry barley stalks wearing red wellies. The birds watched me silent in wonder. There were dozens of them sitting in a row on a power line that crossed the field. Light-gray-hatted heads nodded in turns approvingly and in marvel. From time to time the silence was broken by a short and coarse caw typical for a jackdaw.

To think of it now, I was a lonely child, to be honest. That probably explains why I loved animals so much. I did not get in to a dancing school even though I enjoyed dancing a lot. That is why almost every evening, I performed for the birds sitting on the power line, they were my audience. I was five-years-old at the time.

I remember the night of the 23rd of September well. I had just finished my performance and thanked my feathery audience for showing up. They started cawing loudly as if they were arguing with each other, and some of the birds took flight. I started walking back to the house across the dry field. The red-painted ranch looked old and worn-out in the evening sun, I recall. My parents did not have money to renovate the house and its walls were out-dated and dirty. The old piggery looked shabby, its windows reflected the orange hue of the sunlight and the barley fields. There was a late autumn’s coldness in the air and a stench of frozen ground. The only thing bringing warmth to the scene was the smoke slowly rising from the chimney and mixing into the night sky.

Inside the house I took off my wellies and my jacket. I warmed myself up standing in front of the wood-burning stove in the kitchen. It made me feel drowsy. Mom made me and my twin-brother French toasts for supper. After eating, I watched some soap-opera, meant for adults, from the CRT TV. Then I took a bath and went to sleep. I had my own room with a window pointing to the west. I watched how the fields swallowed the last rays of the sun and the world turned black. I fell asleep fast and only woke up when I heard four gunshots being fired. I remember how the sound came in from the slightly-opened window and bounced around the walls of my room so that I could not tell from which direction it was coming.

I got up and ran in to the hallway where my mom was standing in her white nightgown. She was barefoot.

Go back to sleep”, she told me and my brother who had woken up as well. She spoke in a calm voice but I could see the fear in her eyes. Of course, we did not listen but followed her outside. She ran straight towards the fields and kept going. I followed her even though the frozen barley stalks pricked my feet through the woolen socks I was wearing. In the distance, I could make out a dark figure lying lifeless in a bed made of dry and cold crop. At that very moment, I realized dad was missing and I knew in my heart the figure was him.

And so it was. Dad had been shot four times. The first bullet alone would have been enough to kill him. I remember how the black blood surrounded dad’s body like a sheet made out of satin. The jackdaws sleeping on the power line had woken up and stared at us with eyes glistening in the darkness. They were the only ones who had witnessed the murder of my father.


December 21st, 2005

I was angry with my brother. I felt that he had betrayed me by not warning me beforehand or discussing with me about his plans. He simply called me on the 1st of December and told me that he, together with his wife, had bought our old ranch back in June and spent the whole autumn renovating it. Now he wanted to invite me there for Christmas. I was in shock.

Fifteen years ago, right after our dad died, mom had sold the house and the piggery as well as all the land she had: fields and forests alike. She died of a heart attack two years later. My brother and I did not have any kind of relationship through out our teenage-years, I can not tell why, we were just drifting apart. We were raised by our grandmother from our dad’s side. She enjoyed the company as our grandfather had gone missing years ago, even before I was born. He disappeared in a hunting trip. People used to gossip saying that he had killed himself by walking in to a marsh or shooting himself or hanging himself into a tree and the animals had taken care of the rest of his body. My grandmother told me that grandpa had been a stubborn, depressed and a very controlling man. They had fought a lot especially about how to raise children. Wether he had really killed himself or not, nobody knew.

No one talked a word about our old ranch after mom departed. To be honest, as a kid I always imagined that the ranch was demolished. But now I learned that is was not and it was still there, waiting. The thought of going back there after all these years felt unbearable. I had told that to my brother over the phone and asked a little more time to consider if I could do that.

Dad’s mysterious death was never solved. Why would anyone want to hurt dad? I could not think of a motive, everyone loved dad, he had no enemies. I remember, when we were little, my brother told me that maybe there was a hunter who mistook dad for an animal. But to me, it made no sense at all as hunters had no right to be that close to settlement, and that would not explain why dad was shot four times. In addition to that, I recall the police telling that dad was shot from close range. But that was pretty much all I knew. No one really talked to me about these things when I was little and as I grew up, I did not care to talk about my dad’s murder anymore. I just wanted people to leave me be.

I wanted to decline my brother’s invitation but at the same time a new feeling inside my awoke. I knew, I never wanted to set a foot in that house again but at the same time I felt something… Curiosity maybe? It was hard to admit.


December 24th, 2005

There it stood. The old house was completely renovated, the red ochre paint was gone and instead everything was pastel yellow now. Window frames were pure white, freshly painted, and the worn down felt roof had been replaced by bitumen. The piggery was renewed to match the house. The sand road had been paved and there was a thin veil of snow on it. The temperature had dropped below zero and the sky was light purple and clear. The bright white sun hung low over the fields. When I was little, there was barley and rye growing in those fields. I remembered how the long-awn barley cobs bent down when they ripened, and how I used to pick up huge amounts of couch grass from the field in an attempt to help dad. I did not remember anything else about the rye fields other than there were some growing further from the house.

There was warm, red and gray smoke rising from the chimney against the clear sky, and it instantly reminded me of childhood Christmases. I admired the scenery covered by powder snow, it made me feel serene. How anything bad could happen here? Suddenly, my eyes met the power line over the fields and the birds sitting on it. They were dark-gray-feathered jackdaws. I stared at them as if I was bewitched and wondered, could they be the same birds? Could some of the birds be old enough to have witness my dad’s murder? Would it be possible? I started walking towards them and they stared back at me silent. Then I could hear a door open behind me.

Where are you going? Come inside”, I heard my brother’s voice yell and he walked towards me briskly. I had to turn around and face him. His arms were open ready for a big hug. His face was wrinkly and his long, auburn beard looked wild. I answered to his familiar gesture with reserve and when I was hugging him, I peeked over his shoulder to the door where his wife stood with a big smile on her face, wearing a red apron. The apron curved beautifully over her pregnant tummy. A delicious smell of Christmas food came from inside the house and I realized how hungry I was.


December 25th, 2005

I woke up in the middle of the night to a familiar sound. Four gunshots were fired. But it could not be? Was I having a nightmare? I slept in the room that had been my room when I was five. The giraffe wallpaper was gone now though, and the walls were creamy white. The wooden floorboards were covered by a clean parquet and all the furniture was brand-new. However, the bed was still in the same place as it had been fifteen years ago, and I was now staring right out of the window that was at the end of the bed. Outside the night was pitch-black. I got up and put on my satin robe and pair of red woolen socks. I instantly remembered how the dry barley stalks had felt through my socks the night my dad was murdered. I hesitated.

I slowly walked to the door. I opened it and stepped into the dark hallway. I could not see anybody. I walked behind the master bedroom door and peeked inside. The rustic, dark-wood king-size bed was untouched. That was odd as I had gotten the impression that my brother and his wife were already in bed. The crib for the baby stood in the corner of the room.

I went back to the hallway and to the front door. The adrenaline had worn out and my eyelids felt heavy again. I was now sure I had had a nightmare. It would not be a surprise taking into consideration that I was in the house first time since my father’s death.

I would have to go outside and check, though, I thought but I did not want to.

You have to make sure it was only a nightmare”, I said to myself but could not move.

After a while, I gathered up some courage and reached the metal door handle with sweaty fingers. I could feel its coldness on my skin. I pushed it down and the door clicked and opened, it was not locked. I stepped outside but backed right back inside when I realized I was only wearing my woolen socks. It had been snowing and there were big piles of snow in front of the porch. I put on shoes.

Outside silent snowflakes were falling down into the snowy ground. I could see footprints. They led towards the field. The horror inside me grew. I saw how some restless birds on the power line took flight and then sat back on the cord. Here and there echoed whispering caws as if the birds were gossiping. It was hard to see anything in the dark. I walked to the field. Then my eyes met two black lumps on the snow. I knew, I had found my brother and his pregnant wife.

Suddenly, a dark-winged jackdaw yelled behind me loudly. I turned around and raised my hands to cover my face as the bird was flying straight towards me. When I dropped my hands and raised my head I saw the end wall of the house. In the faint, pale moonlight I saw huge, grotesque, painted letters. They read:

I just came to get my family.

Then a painfully loud shot fired behind me and I lost my hearing. I felt as if I was unable to breathe. I looked down and saw that there was black blood coming from my stomach. It dribbled on to the white snow. The birds on the power line started screaming.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Then The Stars Fell From The Sky


In the horizon, Eret could see, the wasteland was burning under the hot, orange sun. The air rippled from the heat like waves of the ocean he had never seen. His throat felt dry, the rib bones were visible under the sunburned skin. Food was scarce and everything he had found, he had offered to the Gods to please them. He believed that the suffering of the body would lead him closer to other worlds. He wanted to learn how to move between time and space like his father, and his father before him, but Eret had a wild mind, untamed, that could not be silenced. He was unable to concentrate and lose control. His head was filled with so many voices, he was not sure which one was his own anymore. His father had tried to cure him from that disease of the mind but he had been unsuccessful. That was why Eret left his family and went to live in isolation.

It was a long way to the sacred grove. Eret made the journey barefoot. He sat on the shore of the big, blue lake and stared at the stone wall that had paintings on it. He had made those paintings: reindeer and bears, wolves and foxes, human in between, part of the nature not detached from it. The red paint depicted a world divided in three layers: on top were the world of Gods, in between the human world and under it the underworld where the dead and the dark spirits roamed. Eret wanted to move between these worlds and learn their secrets. He wanted to see the past and the future, to understand what it all meant but he was stuck in his human world. He was stuck in his body because of his underdeveloped mind. He was painfully aware that there was something wrong inside of him, something he was not able to explain.

He reached his hands into the warm water and washed his face. The picture of the burning wasteland came back to him. What does it mean? It was 1st of August and the nature was soon to turn into autumn, soon it was time for harvest, Eret thought. He should go back to his family to help them get ready for winter. A lonely crow cawed on the branch of the downy birch. The bird was watching Eret and their eyes met. Eret tried to clear his mind in order to listen to what the bird was saying but again these many voices started to whisper lies in his ears.

The stars will fall from the sky...” One voice said.

The sun and moon will burn out...” Another whispered.

And the earth will be no more...” Came the third.

Stop that”, Eret said out loud and shook his head. The voices were describing the end of the world, he knew. That was the only thing they were telling him. And he could not hear anything else.

Please, stop”, he repeated.

Suddenly, the crow took flight, its wings flapping and feathers fluttering. It flew right towards Eret. He raised his hands to cover his face but the bird started pecking on his skin.

No!” Eret yelled and leaned backwards. He lost his balance and fell into the lake. But the lake had no bottom and he sank deeper and deeper and the blue water turned green and then gray. Come with me, he heard the crow cawing inside his head. Let go, don’t fight.

He tried to relax and felt how the stream pulled him deeper, carrying him away. Everything turned black and then he saw the lake from above. He saw his own body lying on the shore under him lifeless, and he panicked. The voices started to speak all at the same time and he felt horrified.

No, no, no! He tried to yell but no voice came out of his mouth. He tried to move but could not feel his body. Let go, the crow repeated. But he could not. The panic took hold of him, he was terrified.

And then he woke up.


Eret was back in his village, helping his people. The first snow had fallen early that year and the ground was covered in white cotton. The sun hung lower in the sky every day and the nights were getting longer. Eret could hear his father playing the drum and chanting in a monotone voice on the bottom of the fell were spirits gathered. Eret’s mother came to him and put her hand on his shoulder.

Are you still hearing the voices?” Mother asked Eret.

Yes. They come to me now in my dreams as well. They speak of the end of the world”, he answered.

Those are the voices of demons, my love. They are tricking you. The end of the world is not yet to come in centuries. We don’t speak about that”, his mother said kindly.

I know. I wish I was healthy. I wish father could heal me. I wish he could free me from my demons”, Eret whispered. His voice was tired and crackling.

Last night I saw a dream so vivid I thought I was awake. I saw a white deer, bigger than other deer, I saw it die and collapse to the ground. I saw the snow cover the corpse, then suddenly it was raining ash instead of snow. Then the stars fell from the sky.”

I don’t want to hear it”, his mother told him and shook her head.

Go to sleep”, she ordered.


The harsh winter storm blew thick snow around in swirls. Eret saw the forest trees bent so that they looked like they could snap and break anytime. His boots left deep footprints on the snow. He could still feel the heat from the burning wasteland somewhere far away, something in that vision had burned into his retinas forever, it was calling him. It felt as if there was a fire slowly growing inside his heart. Every night the stars fell in his dreams after the first deer was struck down. Every waking hour he was waiting for the world to end.

Then, he stopped. He had heard something. He hid behind the snowy white trees and listened. Between the heavy tree trunks he saw his mother and father speak to each other. They had not noticed him.

The crow is asking my help. He comes to me, because our son will not leave with him. The crow is the spirit animal who’s tasked to lead him into the underworld but he won’t go”, Eret heard his father tell.

It’s the demons in him. I am worried. I am afraid of him, to be honest”, his mother told.

It’s not just the demons. I know you don’t want to hear this but I think, we should look for another kind of healing. I think we should take him to see what they call a psychiatrist. I think his mind is ill in a way that I don’t have the knowledge to heal”, Eret’s father said.

No. I say no. And we do not discuss this again”, his mother answered in a determined voice. Then they started walking away.

Eret leaned his back towards the tree trunk and sobbed. He felt feeble, lonely, afraid. He knew there were demons inside him. He was afraid of what they would do to him. But he never thought his old-fashioned father would suspect he was mentally ill.

I just need to follow the crow and go to the underworld, then I can leave my demons there and be born anew”, he whispered to himself.


That very night the crow returned. It sat beside his bed and looked at him. He could now see that the crow’s eyes were the color of an amethyst and they looked ancient.

You are ready to go now? The crow asked tilting its head.

Yes, Eret answered in his sleep. He was lying on his back and suddenly, he felt how he started to grow roots. They stretched and burrowed into the ground deeper and deeper. He could see the layers of earth flashing by, centuries of history. He came across a fountain so pure he had to stop and drink from it. Then he dug deeper and deeper and in the end he reached the earth’s core of lava. He felt the warmth fill his heart. He was relaxed. The voices had been silenced. There was only emptiness.

Come with me, the crow cawed and Eret opened his eyes. He was flying above a desert filled with bones. In the horizon he saw the wasteland burning and then… Someone was coming.

Don’t go there, come with me, the crow said but Eret could not move. He stared at the one coming, he had to know. This was his vision coming to life.

It was a skeleton riding a skeleton horse. The eye sockets of the man were empty and black but Eret could feel that the skeleton saw right into his soul.

I’ve been waiting for you, Eret”, the skeleton said. Eret could feel that under the bones the man was smiling.

Now, it’s time to fill your destiny.”


Eret woke up in the snow. He was cold, so very cold. He raised his hands and saw that they were covered in blood. He panicked. He could not remember how he got there. In the snowy branch of the downy birch the crow was sitting and said to him: you stepped astray. I cannot help you anymore. And then the bird turned into ash that vanished into the cold air.

Eret could see smoke rising in the distance. All of a sudden he felt like throwing up. The smoke was coming from the village. He rushed towards it and the fear filled his heart.

When he got there, he saw that everything had been burned down. There were charred bodies lying on the ground, the bones were broken. He knew what it meant to break a skeleton. He cried in disbelief. Among the corpses sat his father. Eret ran to him.

What happened?! Where’s mother?” He asked. Slowly his father raised his head and revealed his mutilated face.

You happened. Don’t you remember. You came into the village and slaughtered everyone. You broke the bones so that none of these people can get a new body in after life. They are now doomed to live without a new descended body, just free spirits lost in time. You are the end of the world. You have killed the first deer and you will make the stars fall from the sky. You will burn out the sun and the moon and you will see that the earth is no more. I should’ve recognized the face of death. You are not my son. I curse you demon!” The father said and collapsed to the ground dead.





Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Halloween Special: No one Lives Here

 



Sonya

The restless Autumn wind came in whistling through the leaking windows. Raindrops ran down in little streams into the cold kitchen from the holes in the roof. All the windows were covered with thick black curtains that secluded us from the world outside. I took a look at Patrick who was resting on the moldy living room couch and after making sure he was asleep, I dared to pull the curtain back and peek out. Even though, it was only six o’clock in the evening, the surrounding forest was pitch-black. Far in the distance, behind the tree trunks, I saw lights in the darkness. I knew they were candles burning inside our neighbor’s jack-o’-lanterns. I would have like to put a lantern outside our cabin as well but I knew Patrick would never allow me to do that. We were suppose to be hidden from the world, disappeared, drowned in the bottom of a great lake. No one was to know that any living soul nested in this 1800’s shack. No one lived here, so they believed, and that was for the best for us. I took an old brass bucket and placed it under yet another leaking hole. I wished I could at least fix the roof or burn some wood to warm the place up as it was freezing. I went to the living room, took a sheep’s hide and pulled it up to cover my sleeping son so he would not get cold. It was too small to reach the stern, robust body of a twenty-five-year-old from head to toe.

Only ten minutes later someone knocked on the door. I felt my heart stop. No one could know we were here. During the eleven months we had spent in the cabin, no one had come near to it. Was the police on to us? I felt nauseous. I peeked out between the curtains and sighed in relieve: there were two little children standing in the wooden porch, no older than ten, I guessed, with Halloween costumes on and tiny baskets full of candy dangling from their hands. I knew I was not supposed to open the door but I could not resist. They were little children, no little children could harm us.


Carlton

No one lives there”, Carlton told Max who was already running through the overgrown forest trail towards the abandoned shack. Carlton could not make up his mind whether to follow his friend or not. Max disappeared into the darkness and suddenly Carlton got scared standing there all alone. He ran after his friend yelling:

Wait for me, Max!”

Carlton recalled that the shack had stood there forever. No one had been living there for decades, Carlton’s mom had told him once. She had explained that years ago local teenagers trashed the place and before that, when Carlton’s mom was his age, satanists used the place to perform rituals. Carlton was not sure if he believed the story but he definitely did not want to go near the damn hovel. Carlton and Max had visited all the houses in their area but Max was still hungry for more and wanted to be absolutely sure there was no one in that shack that could offer them candy.

Ew, the place is creepy, let’s go back”, Carlton begged but Max’s eyes were sparkling in the subtle, pale moonlight as he was mesmerized.

There is a witch living here, for sure!” Max yelled in excitement and jumped on to the wooden porch. The old and decayed wood swayed under his shoes and Carlton was afraid it would crack.

No there isn’t, don’t be stupid. I already told you, no one lives here”, Carlton answered frustrated but Max knocked on the door, nonetheless. A moment passed. In the silence of the forest, the rain drummed against the metal roof. Carlton was holding an umbrella that was constantly pulled by the wind. His sneakers as well as his socks had gotten wet while running on the mossy forest trail. Max had no umbrella of his own and his dark, wet hair hung glued to his big, pale forehead. His blue eyes gleamed in the dim moonlight.

Then Carlton noticed something moving in the corner of his eye.

Did you see? Someone was at the window!” Max shouted and knocked again. The wooden door opened in the middle of him knocking. It made a creak. In the doorway stood an old woman with short, blond hair and a tired face. She must be at least fifty, the same age as my mom, Carlton thought. The woman had opened the door just enough so she could peek outside.

Trick or treat!” Max yelled. Carlton felt frozen. He stared at the woman suspiciously. No one was suppose to live here, he repeated to himself in his mind.

Oh my, you look so cute! A skeleton and what are you? A monster? I’m so sorry, I don’t have any candy but wait a second...” The woman said and closed the door. She had not recognized Carlton’s green Hulk costume and that disappointed the boy.

What did I say! She’s definitely a witch!” Max giggled and Carlton lift his finger to his lips nervously. Right then the door opened again.

My apologies, this is all I have”, the woman said while offering two bruised and brown oranges to the boys. How miserable, Carlton thought but took the fruit anyway. The woman smiled pleased.


Sonya

How can you be so reckless, mother! Do you want me to go to jail?!” Patrick yelled all red and hit the kitchen table with his fist. I hated confrontation but I tried my best to stay calm.

They were little children, Patrick. They will tell no one or even if they do, no one will think anything of it. Children tell stories all the time. No one cares if there’s someone living in a cabin in the woods”, I explained to him.

Children precisely tell everyone, they gossip! And then some parent gets worried and comes snooping around. And when they recognize us, the police is gonna be here in that instant and I will be thrown in to jail! I can’t believe you put us in danger! Don’t you understand how it would be for me to be in jail for child murder? I would be beaten to death!” Patrick screamed.

I don’t want that, honey. Besides, you’re innocent and we’re gonna prove that one day”, I told him calmly.

No we are not. We didn’t before. And even thought they had no proof that I was guilty, they we’re still ready to judge me. People want to see me hurt, mom. Don’t ever open the door to anybody again, promise me!”

I promise. I’m sorry, honey”, I said sincerely. Patrick sighed in anger and left the kitchen. There was no place to escape in the cabin though, as it only had three little rooms: a kitchen, a living-room and an alcove.


I felt bad for Patrick. I believed my son was innocent to the crime everyone wanted to blame on him without proper evidence. It had been a brutal murder of a young boy that lived in our neighborhood at that time. I remember how the boy was stabbed to death, full of holes like that, he reminded a voodoo doll. It had been a true hate crime by the looks of it. He had been stabbed several dozen times and there was so much blood. Patrick found the body and immediately came to tell me. I was the one who called the police. I could not have ever imagined that Patrick would be blamed for the killing. Patrick’s fingerprints were all over the scene but I thought it was obvious since he had been first at the scene. There was no real evidence. Patrick was an easy one to blame though, as he was not a bright boy. Even when he had been little, he always struggled to keep up with everyone else.

The police thought that Patrick’s motive was the fact that the victim had spread a rumor that I was having an affair. It was all nonsense as Patrick would never be so petty that he could murder someone over such a little thing. Patrick was nineteen at the time and the victim, Thomas, was thirteen. The police and the media made Patrick look guilty from the very beginning, trying to paint as bad of a picture of him as possible. The trials lasted two years. During that time my husband suffered a heart attack and died. Maybe that was a relieve compared to what we endured in the following years.

It seemed likely that Patrick was gonna go to jail for a crime he did not commit. So we came up with a plan. We staged our deaths. I made sure every detail was taken into consideration: weeks prior we talked to our friends and family about suicidal thoughts we were having. We wrote a note explaining why we felt a need to end our lives together. Then we rode the car to a near by lake and made everything indicate that we had drowned ourselves into the freezing water. The lake was huge and deep and I was well aware that the police had no resources to search the whole body of water. As months passed by, our demise seemed to satisfy the media and people started to believe in the story. Newspapers stopped writing about us. We lived in abandoned buildings, stayed on the move, constantly traveling but only during nighttime. Eleven months ago we found this little cabin that seemed like a perfect hiding place. Even though, the nearest neighbor was at a seeing distant, we made sure no one ever saw any movement inside. In the safety of the darkness of the night, we hunted little animals and went through the neighbors’ trash. That was how we got enough food to keep ourselves alive.


I do not know what came into me, why did I open the door for the children. I had felt isolated and lonely for such a long time, I guess. And I loved children, always had. I did not think anything bad could come out of it. Was I wrong? I pulled the curtain back and watched how the first snowflakes rained down in an otherwise black night. They looked like white flowers. Winter was coming and soon we would not be safe here anymore. The snow would reveal our footprints and it would bury us and the cabin under a cold blanket.


Carlton

The feather-light first snow glistened in the sun showcasing all the colors of the rainbow. It was truly amazing how fast the Autumn’s pitch-black darkness had turned into a Winter’s bright whiteness.

I dropped my keys last night, lost them. I guarantee you they’re somewhere in the forest around that witch’s shack”, Max told while the boys were making a big pile of snow with little shovels.

Was your mom mad?” Carlton asked.

Sure, she was. But I’m gonna go back there to find my keys. Of course the snow has covered everything but maybe that woman found them and she’s holding on to them or something. Or I could ask her to keep her eyes open, just in case”, Max explained.

You want to come with me?” Max asked then. Carlton did not. He wanted to decline the offer but he did not like the idea of Max returning to that place alone. The woman could indeed be a witch. She could throw Max into a cauldron or cast a spell turning him into a frog. So Carlton answered:

Yeah. I’ll go with you.”


Sonya

I was taking a nap at the time. My throat felt sore and I was so cold, I thought I might be getting sick and tried to rest. I was wearing three quilts and these, ragged, dirty, old woolen socks that I had found in the shed. I was freezing regardless. I was half asleep when I heard someone scream. I jumped up and dropped the quilts to the floor. I ran the few steps to the kitchen and saw Patrick standing there, an angry expression on his face and a knife in his hand.

Those bloody kids are back! I told you so! They recognized us and came back to snoop around!” Patrick hissed at me with a coldness in his voice.

Why are you holding a knife?” I asked shivering. I felt nauseous.

We can’t let them go, they’re witnesses, mom. You don’t want me to go to jail, do you?” Patrick said in a voice that made me tremble in fear.

What are you talking about, Patrick. They’re just children, for God’s sake! Give me the knife. I’ll talk to them”, I begged him but something inside me warned me. The old feelings of doubt, I had tried to avoid and forget all these years, came back to me suddenly. I reached my hand towards my son. Then, someone knocked on the door.

Mom. Go back to the other room”, Patrick ordered me and took a step towards the door.

No, don’t!” I yelled and launched at him but he pushed me aside effortlessly. I tripped and hit my head in the cabinet, hard.

You should’ve listened to me, mom”, I heard Patrick’s voice telling me. The whole world was black for a while, my ears were ringing. I heard how the door was opened and then this, inhuman, high-pitched screaming. Slowly my sight came back and the world stopped spinning so that I could make out what I was looking at. My son was bend down next to a little boy’s body. The boy’s dark hair was stained with red blood and the lifeless blue eyes stared straight at me, blind. Everywhere was so much blood, oh God how much blood. Patrick had stabbed the boy repeatedly, shredding him into pieces. The tears of horror rose to my eyes and blurred my vision.

You really did do it”, I whispered crying.