StraightJacket Publications Presents: Midnight Forever
In The Dead of Winter
by Brandon Henry
He stood outside, in the chilling cold as he blew the warm air from his lungs into his hands and rubbed them together. A light snow had begun, and he let the flakes brush his scruffy face. He’d gotten laughed out of another bar; maybe he’d just buy his own, even though he didn’t like drinking alone. He’d given the bartender the finger as he walked to his car and got in. He missed his truck. It was older than God, but he’d loved it.
They were all fools. He knew what he had seen, for his memory was quite sharp. He remembered it as well as he saw his own hands in front of him. This year’s winter was harsh. The town was on a fringe of a blizzard, bridges and roads were closed, and there had been break-ins, for food. It was for this reason that he kept a shotgun next to the door of his house. This winter had been hell, and he just wanted to see the sun.
There was one hill that always got hit hard by snow. It was a steep hill that was covered in black ice, and there was a sharp turn at the very top. He’d been ‘On the town’, as his mother would have said for too long that night, so, he thought he could take it on. Any other time he would have taken the shoulder, but tonight his confidence was high. His wheels spun as he searched for a patch of clear road, and he floored it, only to hit a solid patch of black ice. He hit the guard rail hard, his wheels spinning in the mud, before he heard one of them pop.
“Well,” he thought, “this isn’t going to turn out well.”
Fully awake now, and not in a laughing mood, he got out of his truck. It was pretty bad. The frame looked a little lopsided, his back-right tire was a goner, and he was missing two hub caps. And to top it all off, he was up to the axles in mud. He wanted to cry a little; this truck was his first vehicle, and there were a lot of good and bad memories in there. Turning away, he and started toward the road to see if he could understand how this all happened.
He’d barely taken a step when he heard a low, wailing cry. At first, he thought it had come from his own throat, but it hadn’t. It was female and he heard it again as he turned to the trees behind him.
“Hello?” He called out. He waited and waited but there was no response from the frozen world. “Must just be in your head.” He thought as he turned back towards the road, even though he’d forgotten why he was going there.
He heard it again, but this time it was louder and closer. He couldn’t see anything or anyone, but he turned and ran down the embankment anyway. He got to a tree and called out again, but there was still no response. Instead of turning back, though, he kept going. This time, though, he kept going. It wasn’t like anyone was going to take his truck. He ran into the forest that had scared him as a child, and made him think that there was ‘something’ out there. It didn’t help that he always felt like he was being watched when he hunted in it.
He thanked god that it was clear tonight. The moon gave enough light to show the tracks behind him, and the stars were pretty to look at. He stayed in a straight line for about ten yards when he heard the crying again. That’s when he saw the drops of blood. The few drops stood out like red ink on a huge smooth white sheet
And again he heard a woman crying. He walked on, slowly, as he didn’t want to miss something. He followed the blood, as it increased, then began to disappear. He wished this part of the country side wasn’t flat; he longed to climb up a hill and make sure there wasn’t some wacko out here with a gun. His military training still kicked in sometimes.
The forest became nearly impassable, and that’s when something occurred to him. Why had he seen blood, but no tracks? He’d tracked animals that way before and there were always tracks. He called out again, not expecting what he got. The woman’s voice came back to him, calling for help. He began to sprint as he continued following the blood, stopping when he came to a large pool. It was about a foot wide and had made a clean-cut through the ice. He didn’t want to know how deep it was.
He called out yet again. This time, he was answered by the low, wailing cry, but it was close. He ran past a batch of trees and saw something out of the corner of his eye. It was so white that he thought it was some built-up of snow but it was actually a young woman. She was beautiful, and when he looked closer, he saw that she was holding an infant. They were both as white as the moon above, and it was hard to tell where she ended and the snow began.
He looked closer at the baby cradled in her arms. It looked like it was just out of the womb, and its eyes were open; and frozen in place. Its mouth hung open in a silent scream and its head hung to one side in a grotesque’s way. After staring at the head for too long, he saw the blood coming from its chest.
“What the hell happened?” He whispered, not meaning to say anything aloud.
“I didn’t want to do it. It was an accident. I’m going to get in a lot of trouble.” He jumped when she began to speak.
“Honey, you won’t get into any trouble if you just slowly walk back to the road with me, and we can get help.” His voice broke, even he tried to sound calm. She stood up, and he took three steps back.
After two heartbeats, he noticed that her feet didn’t touch the ground, but she still walked as if they did. He almost climbed the tree behind him in fear, that’s when he remembered reading an old newspaper in his grandmother’s basement. The article was about a young woman who had gone crazy and killed her family before taking her baby brother into the woods and freezing to death. She screamed again, and that’s when he realized he was up against the tree.
Plastered to it, in fact. He blinked, and saw only snow. There was no woman, no dead baby, and no blood. He turned and ran straight back to the road. When he got there, he was tired and sweating. His truck was where he had left it, but he stared at it like he hadn’t seen it in years. Knowing that it was no good, he left the behind and ran on.
By the time he got home, he was sick. He’d be in the hospital for two weeks, then self-committed to a mental hospital for the next five years. He eventually got out, but everyone he told would just laugh him off. This also prevented him from getting married, though he had wanted to.
Towards the end of his life, he saw her again. He woke up one night-after having another nightmare and headed to the bathroom, but never got there. When he passed his bedroom window, he saw her standing in his front yard. They stared at each other through the window, and she had no emotion on her face at all. He, however, wanted to scream at her; to shake the life from her, or chase her away, but he couldn’t. He was too scared. She raised her hand and waved to him. He tried to speak, but nothing came out. He watched as she turned and walked back to her forest grave. He spent many years telling and re-telling that story, but it always fell on unbelieving ears and shaking heads.
He disappeared one winter, and they didn’t find him until spring. He was sitting at the foot of a tree with a knife clutched to his breast, its blade buried deep in his heart.
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