Where I grew up is a fairly isolated place.
Farmland stretches long between houses that are often miles apart. You see more cows and corn than you do family housing. My nearest neighbor sat a good 30 minutes away on a bike ride and even longer to walk. Cars have a funny way of making things seem nearer than they are, but once you are out by yourself walking down the barely paved roads, you understand just how alone you can be.
In some ways, it is a blessing. I could say that I felt blessed to be a part of nature like man has always been. I could behold the beauty of the old and ancient wood. We drank from a pure mountain spring, the best tasting water I have ever tasted. Even now, in the city, nothing could ever come close.
However, it had it’s downsides too.
Through Spring, Summer, and Fall, there was plenty. Lots of wild food could be found in the wood, game to be taken. Farmers would bring in their harvests and bundle them away to prepare for the long winter. Because once winter started, there was no moving in and out of the valley. It would be quite normal to go for months without electricity, in -14 degree weather with six foot snow drifts trapping everyone inside. Those who were unprepared would simply fade away into the white to never be seen again.
It was one winter when I learned that it wasn’t only just snow out there in the dark wild.
It was just my father and I as we prepared for the first blizzard of the year. We had spent a better part of the day cutting down dead trees and chopping them into firewood. Firewood was the most important thing to have in winter, and we stacked it up high next to the old cast iron wood-stove in our small home. True to the townsfolks predictions, it stormed that night and over the next couple days.
I wasn’t all that surprised when the electricity cut out. It would be weeks before we would have hot water on tap or lights at the switch, but we made due. We had kerosene lamps and the wood-stove to heat up snow. We had brought in our own harvests and bedded down the livestock with extra food. All the animals from the chickens to the cats were snug in the barn. I was confident we’d make it through one more winter.
Being young as I was, I wasn’t allowed to go outside much when the temperature dropped below zero. I was quite young, and it was considered dangerous to allow young ones out in about in that kind of weather. So that meant, I was often alone for long stretches of time. I was smart enough at least to keep the fire going at all times and to heat up my own water, so it wasn’t too bad.
But this particular winter felt…off. It was colder than normal and we could hear the sharp cracks of sap freezing in the tree trunks out in the wood. There was a sharp howling wind that seemed to enter the house in tiny cracks, stealing away heat where it could. It had recently snowed so much that the thick snow buried us inside the house. My father had to climb out of a window to shovel it away.
The livestock were quiet and restless, like a predator was about. By this time, bears were hibernating in their dens and mountain lions busied themselves with deer. What roamed out in the woods this time of year was perhaps not of this world.
There were the usual legends of course. The wendigos. Ghouls. Some of the more ethnic German folks whispered about the Krampus coming to steal the naughty children away.
They were wrong of course, what lurked out there was older than stories itself. Always hungry, but never satisfied.
All I knew was one blustery day, I looked out the window with my kerosene lamp in hand, to see three red eyes glowing distantly in the wood. Three was a magic number, a supernatural number, so I nearly dropped the lamp in shock. I couldn’t help but watch, as the eyes blinked at me and then retreated into the wood.
I threw an extra log in the fire and tried to forget about it.
I didn’t tell my father. Not for the fear that he wouldn’t believe me, but because talking about things often attracted their attention. I kept it too myself, but was extremely relieved when he came home later to cook up some dinner.
The wind howled and I could swear I heard footsteps outside the house all night. Father heard it too, and sat up with a loaded rifle until dawn came.
The next day we witnessed animals walking out of the wood. Foxes, rabbits, mice, owls, deer, all critters big and small crossed our property and made their way downwind into the valley. I was sure at this point, father knew what was out there, but he didn’t say a word. He spent the rest of the day hauling more firewood into the house until we ran out of space. And then, he FOUND more space. He locked the doors and windows and put up the heavy curtains.
He told me to be a good child, and read up on my studies while he sat by the door with his rifle.
All through the night, the wind howled and shrieked as the cold seeped in again. I was forbidden to look outside or even be near the windows. But I could hear the glass rattling in their frames and could hear the frost creep across it. You had to listen closely, but you could hear a tiny scraping sound, like diamonds crushing together. White and clear and chilling. I could hear a call in the distance, a raspy cry that spoke of agony and despair. It wasn’t human, that’s for sure. Father told me to go to bed and once again forbid me to look outside. I obeyed him and went to bed, but I didn’t sleep. The cries continued all night.
The next morning we found out the fate of the animals that couldn’t escape the woods in time. A doe lay frozen near one of our apple trees, no doubt seeking shelter. Not too far away laid a rabbit and a few little birds. All of them was coated with a thin layer of ice as though they were encased in glass. They must have been the ones to scream in the night as they slowly froze to death. I cried for them, but my tears froze on my face and made my eyes sting.
That night, the wind howled and the chill came again. Father once again sat near the door with his loaded rifle and told me to go to bed. But that night, I disobeyed my father and peeled back the curtain on my bedroom window.
The white of the snow was a stark contrast to the dark of the sky and wood. The clouds covered up the moon and stars and left no natural light to see too far out. The trees had since been covered in ice and the branches began cracking from the weight of it. I sat still, looking out into the wild, not too sure what I was looking for. And then, I saw it.
In the darkness came a shape. It was vaguely humanoid, bipedal with long thin needle-like limbs. The shape of the ‘head’ portion was almost cube-like but shifted through other shapes as it walked. I looked as hard as I could, but I couldn’t distinguish anything else in the distance. It cast an ‘un’shape, as though it was cut from a piece of darkness and didn’t quite exist in our world. Perhaps, it was a visitor?
I didn’t have long to ponder over it, until the ‘head’ turned and looked directly at me. I stared at it for a while, and blinked.
In the time it took for me to blink, I opened my eyes to see my window awash with red light. A smaller pinprick of white in the center moved to stare at me.
It was then I realized I was looking into the enormous eye of…that thing!
I didn’t scream. I shut the curtains as quickly and quietly as I could. I closed my eyes and counted to ten, drawing up all the bravery I could muster. I was shaking, but I gripped the curtain again and pulled.
All there was at the window, was a thick layer of ice that distorted the view of the outside world. If I could judge, it would be about two inches thick or so of solid ice.
The message was quite clear. I wasn’t allowed to look, but being young and foolish I was given another chance. I would not squander it. So I went to bed and didn’t speak of it any further.
I think my father knew that I looked, because he sat me down to explain about the nature of the world. “Humans are small.”, he told me. “Our brains aren’t big enough for some of the things out there. Best to mind your own business.”
To this day I never look outside on stormy winter nights, because I fear I will see those eyes again.
I won’t be shown mercy a second time.