Stumbled across this one and thought I would share with the rest of you. Hope you enjoy.
A Winters Guest.
After four-and-a-half hours of driving through traffic, with no heat in my little four cylinder pick-up, I finally reached my aunt’s little house in Bradbury County, Virginia. She was out of town for the week, she had five dogs and six cats, and somebody had to look out for them. She knew I had been in a bad spot lately, and we both agreed that a week away would do wonders for me. She didn’t have cable or internet, there were no neighbors within in two miles, and there was enough food for an army.
I had always loved that house. When I was a kid I’d go there with my mom and my uncle and stay the weekend. We always ate well, fished, relaxed and took long walks where nobody spoke. We all just looked at the beautiful scenery in the mountains. Her house was nestled right in the valley, and trees grew up all around it, a beautiful tunnel of green in the spring and a multicolored Pollock painting in the fall. The headwaters of the James River flew by only a few hundred yards from the front door, and if the wind was right you could fall asleep listening to it rush past.
I didn’t get there until after eleven at night. It took me another hour to feed all eleven animals and clean up all the fur that had been shed since the last time she had vacuumed, all of twenty hours before. Apparently five dogs and six cats can leave a constant mess, as I would discover when I would wake up covered in hair the next morning. There was an endless amount of cleaning to do, even though the house is only five rooms big, and two of those aren’t used. After cleaning and having some leftover pizza, I tried to read a bit, but my eyes wouldn’t stay open, and finally, shortly after midnight, I turned in.
I slept on the couch in the living room. It’s the softest, most relaxing couch I’ve ever sat on, and of all the times I had been there I only ever slept on that couch. It faced the massive window in the west side of the house. That window faced towards the only opening in the valley, and when you woke you could see the sun rising between the mountains. At night, unless the moon was full, it was pitch black outside the window (there are no streetlights or houses around for miles) and normally you couldn’t see anything outside.
I awoke at around three AM. I couldn’t tell exactly, I didn’t have my glasses on and had taken my contacts out before I collapsed. I listened for what might have woken me, but heard nothing. I looked out towards the window and saw two pale lights, close together and very faint, but there. They resembled eyes, but small ones. I assumed it was one of the cats as I hadn’t exactly taken a head count before I fell asleep, but there was a pet door in the kitchen, and anyone that was still out could easily come in. I looked at the eyes (if that’s what they were) for a moment longer, and then drifted back to sleep. I didn’t think of it again until the next night, and I slept uninterrupted the rest of the night.
The little town my aunt lives in is called Kingsville. There are only about seventy-five people in the whole place and it’s on the outskirts of the comparatively metropolitan Goshen, Virginia which boasts almost four hundred. All seventy-five seemingly knew my aunt. I knew this somewhat, but I never guessed how close knit of a community it was until the day after I got there.
I woke up at seven and began making coffee, wondering at the old fashioned pot and boiler she used. There was a knock at the door, and the damned dogs started barking. I left the kitchen and as I headed to the front I heard a voice holler, “You dogs shut up in there! You know who this is, it’s Marvin!” The dogs did not shut up; indeed they seemed to turn it up even louder.
I didn’t know who Marvin was, but I assumed if he was on a first name basis with the animals he couldn’t be all that bad. I reached the door and opened it, kicking heavy masses of yelping fur out of the way. On the porch stood a grizzled old guy, with long grey hair and beard, so long it was impossible to tell where one started and the other began. He wore a flannel shirt and patched jeans and looked like a lumberjack out of a children’s book. He carried a Styrofoam cooler in his right hand.
“You Paul?” he yelled at me. Judging by his volume, I guessed he was a bit deaf.
“You guessed it. I reckon she told you I’d be here.”
“That she did, that she did. I’m Marvin.”
“So I gathered.”
“I live just over the hill on the other side, maybe two and a half miles towards town.”
I still couldn’t get over that. Where I lived if you walked two and a half miles you’d see an endless progression of houses, all looking like cutouts from a magazine. Here, tramp nearly three miles and -hey! – you finally see that neighbor’s house where you borrow a couple of eggs, on account of your own chickens are being horribly inconsiderate of your breakfast.
“What can I do for you Marvin?” I asked.
He handed me the cooler. “Take these. Just some leftover venison I cooked up for you. Your aunt always loves my deer steaks.”
I took it and thanked him. “I’m obliged, but why not eat it yourself? What makes me special?”
“You’re Marie’s family and we look after our own here.” He stopped and looked up at the sky. I put the cooler down and was prepared to offer the old guy some coffee when he started talking again. “Should be a bad one tonight.”
I was confused. “Excuse me?”
“The storm. She’ll be a bad one tonight. Make sure you look out after dark, it can get rough out here.”
It was early March, the mercury was already rising past 40 degrees and the sun shone clear in its little corner of the sky. The sky was clear and empty. I had liked it when I first woke up; it was clear and a pale blue that reminded me of toothpaste. That seemed fitting. A clean sky.
“What makes you think it’ll storm tonight, Marvin?” I asked.
“Just a feeling. When you get as old as these bones you start trusting your hunch a little better. You mind what I say now, so’s I can tell your aunt I did right by you.”
“I got it. Watch out. Maybe I’ll bring in some extra firewood.”
“You do that, sure, but that’s not all. You don’t know what might come out in a big snowstorm.” He turned and headed back to his truck.
“What? What might come out? Hey!” I called after him, but he got in and drove away.
I shook off the odd remark and finished the coffee. It was good, stronger and clearer out of the pot than the instant one I had at home. And Marvin had been right, the deer was delicious. I cut it up and ate with some fruit, and it was a great, if weird, breakfast.
I sat on the porch most of the day, wrapped in a jacket but enjoying the feel of the sun on my face and the crisp breeze. Everywhere I looked around the property was another memory. The picnic table where eight of us at a time crowded around for dinner. The huge field of long grass that was cut only two or three times a year, on an old riding mower that didn’t so much mow the grass as knock it down and trample it. Once, when I was four, my cousin had let me sit on his lap and steer the mower, and of course, I ran over something and the blade flew out from underneath.
Over here was the little pond, barely fifty yards across where I had caught my first fish, a little blue, spiky finned fish that weighed all of three ounces. And just across the pond was the spot I had seen the greatest act of a sportsman ever. I had been there with my oldest cousin, the first time I had hung out with him alone. I looked up to him because he was ten years older and just seemed more adult, more sophisticated. He had handed me a spotlight, grabbed his rifle and we had set out up the mountain. We hadn’t gone ten feet when he hollered at me to bring the light up, which I did, and he fired from the hip. Racing up the hill we had found a deer, dead as a doornail, not a mark on her, save for a small trickle of blood out of her nose. Evidently he had shot directly up her left nostril and into her brain, from 200 yards away, from his hip. Since then he had never lost his stature in my eyes.
I realized I had been lost in reverie for I didn’t know how long, and found myself grinning and chuckling silently on the porch. The nostalgia was mixed with a tinge of sadness, for the loss of my youth, and the horrible mass of problems I dealt with now as a twenty-year old. It seemed so simple, to leave the ghosts of my worries and the hated city behind and just stay here, reliving a better time whenever I chose.
That was as agreeable a day as I had ever had. As the sun brightened, the blue of the sky deepened and the thermometer climbed slowly up to, and then past fifty degrees, I stayed on the porch. Sometimes I read, but more often I just listened to the early songbirds and the rush of the creek. More people came to check on me. They usually brought something along, and would not even take coffee as pay. There were fresh rolls and canned apple butter, more deer, and even a small jug of apple moonshine, which I was delighted to receive from the toothless old geezer who lived even further out of town then my aunt did.
But every one of them mentioned a storm, and they looked at me sadly as they spoke. I couldn’t understand. I had weathered storms before, and though this would be the first by myself, I figured I could handle it. I did, however, remember to bring in the extra firewood.
The sky began to darken after four, and the temperature dropped hurriedly. I made a frozen dinner in the oven, salty fried chicken and mashed potatoes with the look and taste of glue. The shine helped it go down easy though. The snow began to fall around eight, but it was not the storm that had been prophesied so darkly at me. I sat on the porch for a bit, smoking a cigarette and watching it fall. It slowly covered the trees and the ground, leaving a fresh, white sheet of paper behind. I stood up and pissed through the railings of the porch, watching with satisfaction as the last remnants of the apple shine burned through the layer of snow on the ground and momentarily revealed the grass below it. That’s when I saw them for the first time.
They were too big and spaced for the dogs, and I didn’t remember walking through the snow. They also seemed too small for me or any adult I knew anyway. I knew enough animals walked through the yard, both wild and tame, but it was too succinct a pattern for anything but a person’s tread. I listened for a moment, but heard nothing, and the steps seemed to be moving toward the other side of the house. I slipped on my boots and checked, but there was nothing there. The tracks ended on the far side of the house, and I figured I must have stepped out to pee earlier and forgot about it.
I went inside and fed the fire some more, then had another drink. I turned on the TV to catch the college basketball highlights, but left it low enough that I could doze if chose to. I had left my contacts in to watch TV this time, and I turned and looked out the big window. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of those pale lights again, but this night the window was frosted over. Whatever cat had been left out last night wouldn’t be noticed tonight. Besides, they had the pet door at the back.
I dozed around nine, and I finally woke up close to midnight by a pounding on the front door. The television was still going on, news broadcast repeating until six in the morning. It was very dark, save for the light from the TV. I drowsily shook my head and looked around, silently cursing myself for falling asleep in my contacts.
The pounding began again. I couldn’t believe anyone would be out this late, in this weather, but I had realized that the people that lived here were different than the ones I knew. It must be another neighbor, checking to make sure I was alright. It wasn’t.
When I opened the door, there was a boy on the porch. He looked to be about thirteen and very skinny. He had a coat on, but no hat or gloves. His skin on his face and hands was very dark, but his hair was very pale, almost white in the moonlight. He did not seem to have any snow on him, and indeed I realized that the snow must have stopped while I was asleep. He didn’t look up at me, only down at the porch, and he didn’t speak.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“May I come in?” was his only answer.
For a second my better judgment almost got the best of me and I nearly brought him in, not wanting to leave a child out in the cold. But then my city instincts kicked in and started asking questions. I realized I had no idea who this boy was, or if he knew my aunt. I knew people were fiercely private up here, and though I was welcomed because of my aunt, I was still an outsider. I didn’t want to get involved in any problems with anyone here, and I certainly didn’t want to bring trouble down on either myself or my aunt.
“First tell me who you are.”
“Please, let me in.” He still had not looked up.
“What are you doing in the cold, man?”
“Looking for a place to stay.”
I looked at him, and then looked down. One palm was open and facing me, as though he wanted me to slap him five, the other hand was resting palm down on his pants. They were both covered in cuts. I reached for him and touched his shoulder, but there was a heat coming off him. It was so strong I felt that my hand was burned. I stepped back and looked at it, convinced he was burning up with a fever. “What the hell…” I said.
He still did not move. “You must let me in,” he said.
“What, no, man, who are you? Are you sick? What on earth are you doing out here?” I was stammering, and I realized I was scared, though I didn’t know why. “What are you doing here?”
“I am here for you.”
“For me? No, you got the wrong guy, I don’t know anybody here, man. You need to get home before it snows again.”
“I am home, now LET ME IN!” he yelled and finally looked up. I froze in terror. His face was horribly scarred and mutilated, the lips twisted in a crooked snarl, like a dog if you reached for his food bowl. In the middle of his face, too low for a normal person, only right above his nose, were his eyes. They were the eyes that had looked in at me through the window the night before. They were the palest blue I had ever seen, the pale blue of the sky that earlier I had thought was so pretty and now seemed horrible, deformed. He raised his hideous, scarred hands and bared his snarling teeth at me, screaming again to be let in. But I couldn’t stop looking at his eyes. They were empty. The colors that on most people reveal a depth and intelligence here only ended and I realized there was nothing there, no soul or spirit, only the hunger of an animal.
He reached for my throat and his screams changed from a plea to be let in to a simple, high-pitched wailing, like a terrible wind. Behind me I heard a dog stir and begin to whine, and then the rest followed. Hearing the dogs cry, I finally snapped to myself and slammed the door and locked it, panting heavily and sobbing in my own throat. He pounded on the door again, but harder this time, so hard. It shook the whole house and the fire, already dwindling, died, leaving me with only the dim light of the TV. I raced to the back to lock the back door, and the horrible howling, the scream that sounded so much like a bad wind seemed to enter the house and follow me. It got louder and louder and I realized I was screaming myself. I locked the other door and raced to the room on the far side of the house.
This room had been shut for years, but I knew there was only one window here, unlike the rest of the house, which now seemed too open, too inviting. I gasped as I entered the room. Those hideous, pale eyes seemed to be in there waiting.
I flipped on the lights and almost collapsed with relief. There was only one window in here, and it was completely boarded. Someone must have broken the glass years ago and she had just sealed plywood on there. There were no marks on the wood, except for two small, round pieces of light blue electrical tape. The tape must have caught the light of the TV and reflected it.
I slammed the bedroom door. Once it was shut, the piercing howl of the scream lessened, though it by no means died out. The pounding of the door and the shaking of the house continued. I grabbed a flashlight and clutched it to myself. It was the only thing resembling a weapon I could see, and it was a pitifully small thing. I sat against the door and moaned, praying it would end and he would go away. I had no idea what he might have wanted had I let him in, but various tortures and horrors raced through my mind, each worse than the last.
I have no idea how long I sat there, listening to those ungodly sounds and waiting for the inevitable crash of the door falling in or the roof blowing off. It may have been thirty seconds or thirty minutes. It felt like thirty days. I was convinced I would die of fear before he came in, that someone would find me in a week or so, my hair gray and standing on end and my face in twisted cower.
It finally ended, and I heard nothing for a while. I climbed shakily into the bed and covered my head in the blankets, still clutching the light. I waited and waited, and finally drifted off into a very light sleep.
In the morning I crawled out of the bed. The overhead light was still on in the room and I looked around. The first thing I saw was the plywood on the window, and I saw that there was no light blue tape. There was nothing at all.
I grabbed my bag and raced into my truck, pushing it at dangerous speeds down the dirt road. The snow was not deep, but if the tires had been a little worse, I might have died anyway, or God forbid, been left alive but alone and forgotten until night fell again.
When I finally came out to the paved road I called my aunt and left a voicemail in as normal a voice as I could muster. I told her the loneliness had got to me, and to call another friend of hers to feed the animals. I was exhausted on the ride home, but I drank coffee at every other exit, and when I finally found my way to my parent’s house I was a chattering, jittery wreck.
I haven’t slept well since, and I no longer think about my memories in the country, or pine for my youth and my family. What I do have are terrible waking visions of pale blue circles, everywhere I look, like those spots you might see if you rub your eyes too hard. They’re just at the corner of my vision, but I know they’re there. And I freeze and my own eyes open wide every time I hear a knock at the door.
By Shawn Patterson.