Monday, December 7, 2009
This short story is a part of the Spec the Halls contest for speculative winter holiday-themed fiction, artwork, and poetry. You may find guidelines and links to other entries at http://www.aswiebe.com/specthehalls.html
The house wasn’t horrible. It just sat upon the hillside like a drunken partier on a street curb. Two shutters swung loosely creating a comical winking eye.
"I like it.” Billy announced.
“Really?” Madeline doubted her son really meant it, but lately since the divorce he’d been unusually agreeable to anything and everything. She supposed in his 9-year-old mind, the finality hadn’t set in yet. Right now, it had for her.
Madeline squinted up at the peeling paint of the old Victorian. Her great aunt left it to her. The sour old spinster held no one in true affection, but Madeline had once visited with her mother and picked a bouquet of wild violets as a gift for the lonely woman. Her great aunt recalled that one single act of unsolicited kindness and willed her the house. At least it gave Madeline a way to escape Brian and the new life he’d started with that woman.
“You think we might get snow?” Billy asked excitedly, stuffing his cold hands in his pockets.
“Oh yes, it does snow here.”
“Oh boy!” He raced up the steps to the door.
Billy had never seen snow. If they were lucky and the first one came before Christmas day, it could keep him busy. She worried about switching to a new home in the middle of a school year, but the Christmas break was arriving. Perhaps he could meet other kids before school began again. The other houses around them were on spacious half acre lots, all similar Victorians, but in much better repair. She had her work cut out for her, but then a distraction would be welcome for her, as well.
“Come on mom!” He called from inside.
It didn’t matter what happened in life, Billy made everything else seem petty and inconsequential. Pulled into his world of wonder and excitement, Madeline entered the home and studied the contents. Amazingly, her aunt had kept the interior quite neat.
Pleased to find one less thing to worry about, Madeline dropped their bags and exhaled with relief.
“This town would never have been here if it hadn’t been for a trade.” Norma, the tall masculine-appearing librarian announced this over her teacup.
“Well, I suppose that’s true. Our town does owe the Indians, but at what cost?” Linda the next door neighbor sighed.
“They thought the land was cursed.” Norma explained.
Evelyn jumped in excitedly. “They said the rocks were cursed with the power to animate things. That’s how the windigos came about, you know? Animals wandering the rock quarries, picking up the energy and transforming.” Her eyebrows wiggled dramatically.
“I think its rubbish.” Linda announced.
Madeline tried to keep up with the conversation, but her neighbors acted as if she knew the history.
“Didn’t your great aunt tell you any of this?” Norma asked.
Madeline shook her head.
The librarian paced the floor before the window. “Back in the early 1800s the Native Americans traded this land the town is settled on.”
“Cattle. They herded it 25 miles away and stayed there. This was once Reservation land. They even went so far as to write up a contract relinquishing the land.” She stopped and pivoted, blocking out the light and casting a deep shadow over the women. “Evelyn was right. They had a lot of beliefs involving the geology here. People have been reporting strange creatures for almost two centuries. In fact, eventually the rock quarry was shut down due to so many accidents and that part of town was never built up. We pretty much just drive through it, but don’t stay. No one admits it right out, but it’s because they believe in the windigos.”
“It’s an Indian tale of shapeshifters, skinwalkers, you know?”
Madeline thought for a moment. “You mean, werewolves?”
“Oh, all kinds of alterations of owls, wolves, bears, even creatures not seen before.”
“Like what Earl saw.” Evelyn cut in. “My husband Earl saw one two weeks ago and Robert and Jason Mathews saw one just last week.”
“What did they see, exactly?” Madeline was fascinated. She admitted to being a closet horror novel fan. She hid them from Bobby, and Brian always ridiculed her reading “wasteful” fiction, but she liked knowing that for a time the world was scary, but it was all make believe. She wished the bad things in the real world were similarly a falsehood.
“Earl said he saw it standing on two legs, big, dark, and hairy. Like a Bigfoot, really. The Mathews brothers said what they saw was on four legs and enormous.”
“It could have been one of the Drucker’s bison.” Linda scoffed.
“No,” Evelyn shook her head briskly. “Those men are both hunters and they live right next to the farm. They know their animals. This thing was not one of the fenced in bison. It was across town near the old water tower and it was taller than them.”
The women went back and forth with their tales of people seeing windigos. It was exciting to live in a town with a mystique and a history. Madeline found it rather romantic and charming.
The children raced down the stairs and outside, screaming excitedly.
“What’s up now?” Evelyn got up and went to the door and opened it up. “Why, look. It’s snowing!”
“Our first snow of the season!” Linda clapped excitedly. “I so love the first snow.”
“Bobby has never seen snow.”
“Oh, how exciting!” Linda clapped her hands.
The women gathered up their coats and went onto the porch to watch the children racing back and forth in the snow. It wasn’t even tall enough to cover the blades of grass. Madeline went inside and got Bobby his mittens and tossed them to him. His nose was red, his smile was huge, and life was bliss for the boy. She loved his resilience. Already he had five friends on their street and she was rapidly meeting the women and being taken in. With the man from the hardware store scraping the paint from the house and preparing it for painting and another man working on the plumbing, it seemed that it would soon become a real home.
Earl walked up the sidewalk, dodging a snowball. He came up the steps and grabbed up Evelyn’s hand. He smacked a loud kiss on her cheek.
“Oh, Earl!” Evelyn exclaimed. “Tell Madeline about the Windigo you saw.”
“You’re scaring her with stories?” He raised a brow and chuckled. “We want her to stay, not run away.”
“I’d love to hear about it.” Madeline confessed.
“Well, only if you have something hot to drink.”
The women escorted him into the warm kitchen while Madeline poured him some cocoa.
“It was about two weeks ago.” Earl explained, his silvery pale eyes looking out the window as the steam from the cup billowed against his rosy round cheeks. “I was taking my truck out for a ride. I hardly ever get to use it anymore now that we don’t have horses and feed to haul. I was headed up Old Lincoln Road across the tracks and past the cemetery towards Kingston.” He explained. “I was slowing down for a cat crossing the road and when I looked up to continue on, there was something loping down the road away from me, but alongside the road. I took off after it thinking it was one of those bums that keep sleeping in the vacant farmhouses along the tracks. This wasn’t a man, though.” He shook his head briskly, his brow furrowing with concern. “It was tall, real tall. It had these long strides on these thick muscular legs. From head to toe, it was covered in dark brown fur. It had no luster, looked kind of wiry. Never seen anything like it. It wasn’t man. But it wasn’t a goddamned bear.”
“What happened?” She asked excitedly.
“He took about two strides to cross the road and went down into the ravine along the train tracks. He was a big son-of-a-bitch though!” He howled.
“Earl!” His wife scolded. “I hope he isn’t scaring you off. It really is a safe place to live.”
“Yeah, sure.” Earl agreed. “It’s fine here in town. Just don’t want to head towards the mines and quarries. The farms around there closed up during the Depression era. Lots of animals went missing and were killed off. Lots of strange critters. They shut down the mines finally, and the quarry. You’re fine here. Just fine.” He nodded. “We never have trouble in town.”
Madeline would take Earl for his word. If he thought it was safe, it was safe. Whatever superstitions they had didn’t have anything to do with the beautiful little town. Relieved once again there were no shocking surprises disrupting her life, Madeline let her guard down and smiled and laughed for some of the first times in months as she visited with her new friends.
“I really appreciate you taking me to the tile store.” Madeline turned to Max and watched his handsome profile as he studied the rural roadway. It was 40 miles to the store and it took two hours to pick the tiles for the bathrooms, but luckily Bobby was at Randy’s house across the street for the night so she had no rushed scheduled.
It surprised her that Max finished the peeling of the paint from her exterior and then offered to take her tile shopping so he could tile her baths. He owned the local hardware store and although he had workers there, he seemed like a hands-on man. She hated taking him away from work, but his situation was much like hers. He had been divorced two years, but still not comfortable with free alone time.
“You picked some good tiles, Maddy.” He smiled.
“You picked the ones that went in the master bath.” She told him. “You have very good taste. I think you understand what I’m trying to do with the place.”
“I admit I love these old places. I have a wood cabin myself, but the Victorians along your street, they’re picturesque. Always wanted to get my hands on one. You’ve given me a way to live vicariously through you and fix one up.”
“It seems a shame. You should get one.”
“I wanted to buy the one you’re in, but your aunt willed it to you.” He turned and his dark eyes studied her. “I’m so glad she did.”
“Thank you.” She blushed shyly. Their relationship hadn’t shown signs of affection yet, but she wasn’t naïve. He did look at her and speak to her in ways that said he was interested. Surprisingly, as much as she was completely terrified of another relationship, Madeline was not immune to his charm and the giddy feelings it produced.
“Hold on!” He put his arm across Madeline before she could realize what was happening. Their headlights lit up an SUV in the roadway 20 feet ahead of them as it swerved into the oncoming lane as if dodging something in the road.
Madeline made out something enormous and black, bigger than the SUV. Just as they came up on this shadowy figure, Max swerved into the empty oncoming lane, as well. She leaned into her window and looked out at the intruder as they passed it. She had to lean her head back to look up and take in the massive creature. Her eyes locked onto a set of huge eyes, the whites glowing as they passed it. An ominous shiver raced down her back.
“What the hell was that?” Max slowed down and looked into the rearview mirror. Madeline looked into the side mirror. The small car behind them swerved away from the same enormous black creature. The headlights also didn’t seem to reflect on it to reveal any detail.
Max slowed down, letting the car behind them whiz past. He pulled to the shoulder.
She couldn’t stop shivering, even with the heater blasting on her feet and arms.
“I really don’t want to stop here.” She looked back over her shoulder.
“Yes, right.” He gathered up his wits and pulled back onto the road.
Both of them remained in silence until they reached town.
“What do you think it was?” Madeline asked him.
Max shook his head, his expression grave. “I really don’t know. I’ve seen the Drucker’s bison and they’re not only properly fenced and on the other side of town, but they can’t possibly have shoulders higher than an SUV.”
“You saw that too?” She asked with relief.
He nodded. “When we passed it, did you get a look at it?”
She nodded. “I saw its eyes but when our lights hit it, I didn’t see individual hairs or details at all. It was like a shadow with eyes.” She shivered.
“We’re okay now.” He comforted her as they pulled into her driveway. “You want me to come in for a while? I-I mean, keep you company until you’re settled in.”
“Yes, I’d like that.” She admitted.
They climbed from the car and headed towards the house. The motion detector light he’d installed on the porch lit up the huge snowman Billy and his friends had made. He’d borrowed a kitchen chair to put the head upon it. The thing stood taller than Max and he was a tall man.
“He did a good job.”
She smiled. “He’s so happy here. It’s like he’s just come to life. He was shy before. Maybe he just needed the great outdoors.”
“I grew up here and I have to say having free run of fields and forests is pretty exciting for kids. Makes them strong and healthy.” He leaned forward and studied the snowman. “What are these?” He pointed to the glistening eyes.
“Billy picked those up alongside the road on the way into town. We stopped to eat our lunch. He pocketed those pieces of quartz because he thought they were diamonds.” She leaned in to study the strange glittering eyes. “He found a good use for them. They’re really quite pretty.”
She turned on the switch near the door and the lights on the Christmas tree cast a glowing light on the gifts beneath. Admittedly, she was greatly relieved to not be coming home alone with the images of that thing still fresh in her head. At least a little conversation might distract her onto other subjects. If she even thought back to that incident on the roadway, she felt her stomach turn to ice.
“Oh my God! Did you hear?” Evelyn was bent over, huffing and puffing, her hand covering her large chest.
“Norman Pepper.” She wheezed. “At the end of the street.”
Madeline escorted her friend to a chair at the kitchen table and poured her some hot coffee.
“He was attacked.”
“Attacked?” Madeline felt her stomach flip flop. This was supposed to be a safe neighborhood.
“He was taking his trash to the end of the driveway and something came out of the bushes and knocked him over.”
“Is he okay?”
“Yeah, yeah.” Evelyn waved her hand. “He’s a big guy. Takes a lot to knock him down.”
“Did he see who it was?”
She shook her head. “Nope. He didn’t seen him, but he said he was big and vicious.”
“Yeah, he had sharp nails or claws. He cut him along the cheek. Not real bad, but hurts like the dickens.”
Madeline was surprised. The encounter with the “thing” the other night and now an attack, could it have been the same creature?
“You’re looking kind of pale, Maddy.” Evelyn patted her hand. “I don’t mean to scare you. It could have been a prankster.”
“Max and I saw something the other night on the road. It kind of shook me up. We don’t know what it was, but it was huge.”
“Windigo?” Evelyn asked excitedly.
“I’d have to say. Honestly, its shoulders were over 6-feet off the ground!”
“Jesus!” Evelyn howled. “You have any liquor for this coffee?”
That made Madeline break into a smile. Leave it to Evelyn to break a tense moment.
“Mom?” Billy called out.
“Yes?” Madeline responded.
He came rushing into the kitchen, boots leaving wet tracks, mittens crusted together with snow.
“Billy.” She sighed.
“I’ll clean it up, mom. I just gotta tell ya.”
“What about him?”
“Me and the guys named him and gave him a cool snow hat!”
“What did you name him?” She asked.
“Mr. Hamilton?” She asked.
Evelyn blushed. “The boys must have told him that one. It’s the principal at the elementary school’s name. He’s a big tall…robust man with premature white hair.”
Madeline tried not to giggle in front of Billy.
“Do you think that’s a good name, Billy? Someone’s feelings might be hurt.”
He blinked. “Well, we could call him James. They say that’s his first name.”
“I like that name.” She told him.
Please with his diplomatic skills, Billy rushed off to tell his friends the name was “James.”
“That’s an impressive snowman. For a boy who’s never seen snow, he did quite well. With this cold, it might last a month. You know, we’re all so glad you moved here, Maddy. The place is looking wonderful, there’s another happy boy on the street, and you’re such a good friend.” She squeezed her arm.
Madeline couldn’t help feeling a strange icy fear in her belly. The last time she thought she was blissfully contented, it was all a façade. The cozy life in the suburbs with Brian and Billy was so idyllic in her eyes. Was she being too lulled into contentment here? Could anything be this easy and perfect? The dark thing from the roadway crossed her mind and Madeline frowned. It was like the elephant in the room. At some point, it could upset the balance of hope she’d built.
“Hmm?” He replied as he looked up from the menu. It was Christmas Eve and their first real date at a restaurant. She should be joyous and optimistic, but she couldn’t seem to stop wanting to press at the one tender spot of her life in her new town.
“That thing that attacked Norman Pepper. What do you think it was?”
He frowned. “I don’t know. I just heard a bit of the story. He got ambushed putting out his trash can? Could have been a desperate raccoon wanting some food.”
“I take it you’ve seen Norman Pepper?”
“Ex Navy SEAL.” He smiled. “Yeah, I guess that would be a raccoon on steroids. Still, we don’t know the whole story. He could have been startled and made himself fall and is too embarrassed to admit it.”
“What are you thinking?” He asked keenly.
Never in her whole life had a man asked her that. “I-I was thinking about that thing we saw near the road and I was wondering if it might have been what attacked Norman.”
He patted her hand. “I doubt it. I really do. You want to know why?”
“Why?” She was hoping for some relief from her anxiety.
“Because if one believes in windigos, they only stay along the tracks and the quarry. None have been in town. If you don’t believe in windigos, then just look at the facts. There were no huge tracks in the snow. In the hardware store, the men were all speculating what it might have been, but there were no real tracks to tell.”
“Isn’t that kind of odd?”
“Not really. Things freeze overnight and become solid. Still, if it had big heavy prints, they’d still be evident.”
She exhaled with relief. “Thanks.”
“Mom! Mom!” Billy screamed.
Madeline was barely awake, rushing from memory down the dark hallway to his room. The door was wide open and Billy was sitting on the window seat, face turned to the yard out front.
“What, honey?” She rushed in, her heart pounding; certain there must be an intruder or something threatening. The floodlight shined on the snow below.
“L-look!” He pointed.
She looked out over the yard. “I don’t know, what is it you’re seeing honey?”
“Mr. Ham—James.” He corrected.
“Oh, honey.” She sighed. “Someone took your snowman!”
He sniffed. “I bet it was Bart and Mick.”
“I don’t think so. They enjoy your snowman as much as you do. They helped build it.”
He turned his blue eyes up to her, filled with tears. “Can we call Max? He’ll protect us.” He boasted.
She patted his cheek and looked out the window. That feeling was there again, the one of worry and dread. It was the same feeling Madeline felt when she saw that huge creature. An ominous doom, as if it personified all her greatest fears in her life in one physical entity. She certainly didn’t want her son spending Christmas Eve worried about vandalism when he should be waiting for Santa.
“I’ll call him.” She had to admit, she wasn’t happy knowing someone got that close to their door to do harm.
“It doesn’t make sense at all.” Max confided as they sat at the kitchen table sipping cocoa.
“Someone was just being spiteful, I suppose.” She told him.
“No. You see, there wasn’t a trace of him. If someone wanted to bust up his snowman, there should have been piles of snow. That thing was at least 7-feet tall.”
“Well they couldn’t carry it away.” She confessed.
“There was a trench along the snow, like someone dragged it.”
“How could they? It must have weighed hundreds of pounds.” She scoffed.
He scratched his head. “Maybe they pushed it onto a tarp and dragged it.”
“Why would they go to that effort?” She asked.
He sighed. “I really don’t know, Maddy.” He put his arm around her and she melted easily into his side. “Now, we have another dilemma.”
“What?” She whimpered, having had quite enough adventure for the past three weeks.
He laughed softly and kissed the top of her head. “It appears you have a Santa bike for your son but it’s not assembled.”
“Oh.” She blushed. “I was hoping he might want to assemble it.”
“Santa doesn’t leave things unmade. Let me assemble it. I’ve always wanted to be Santa.”
“Thank you.” She kissed him lightly. “I’ll go be sure he’s asleep.” She turned at the stairs. “Max?”
“Hmm?” He looked up from the box near the tree.
“You don’t need to go home tonight. I mean…”
“I’ll sleep on the sofa. I want to see his expression when he finds it.” He offered with understanding.
“It’s much too icy to ride!” Madeline laughed as Billy and Max donned their snow gear.
“Come on, mom! Just let me try it up and down the street. Mr. Pepper keeps the road clear. I heard his tractor out there this morning.”
“Aw, come on mom!” Max whined in a kid’s voice.
She laughed and bent to kiss him and stopped herself from that natural reflex. Billy watched them avidly.
“Doesn’t mom get a Christmas kiss? Where’s the mistletoe?” He looked around.
She had actually thrown it out when she went through her and Brian’s things to decide what to take. Well, she hadn’t thrown it out. She had squashed it in his ashtray on the bedroom dresser as a bitter reminder for him.
“We don’t need any, Billy.” Max leaned forward and kissed her innocently.
“Good, now let’s get outside!” Billy ordered.
They were all laughing as Madeline pulled on her coat and followed them as she yanked her gloves from her pockets and began to put them on. She nearly ran right into them on the porch. They’d planted themselves on the top step and weren’t going down.
“What?” She asked.
“Look at this.” Max pulled her up front.
She looked around in wonder.
“Mom! Mr. Hamilton is back!” Billy yanked on her arm.
“Oh.” She blinked.
Max looked over at her, his brow rising. “Someone had a Christmas guilty conscience?”
“Must be.” She admitted.
Billy inspected his buddy. “He looks good. Even his hat is still there. His eyes. His nose. His arms.” He chirped.
She leaned forward and studied it. It did look perfectly intact.
“That must have taken a lot of effort.” She commented.
“I bet Santa did it!” Billy sang and rushed off towards the road. It was then that the couple’s eyes followed the trail in the snow where someone must have dragged the snowman back.
“A lot of effort.” Max shrugged.
It was blissful having a real Christmas supper with people to cook for. Madeline sat back in her seat and sipped Max’s hot spiked cider and watched the children play a board game near the fire.
Linda and Peter from next door were pleased to join her and Max and bring their son, Billy’s best friend Randy.
“That was an amazing meal. I can see why you were a chef.” Linda sighed. “I do hope you open that café we were talking about. Main Street could seriously use good food.”
Peter groaned and pulled on his pants. “I have never tasted a bread pudding like that.” He sighed. “What was that flavor in the sauce?”
“Bourbon.” She smiled.
A loud thump drew their attention.
The men went over to the side of the front room.
“Sounded like it was here. Did something fall?” Peter asked.
“Looks intact.” Max shrugged and turned off the light. The women had just arrived when it happened again.
Their eyes wide, they listened in the dark room as a slow, painfully irritating scraping sounded against the glass panes of the window. Max stepped forward, threw back the curtains and in the confusion of the darkness outside, all Madeline could see was a flash of something white going past the window, scraping as it passed behind the bushes near the house.
Max rushed to the front door.
“Max, be careful!” Madeline knew she couldn’t stop him. His protective instincts were strong. She heard him leaping down the steps of the porch. They watched him out the window passing by where the person had gone. Minutes later he came back inside, shivering.
“No one. Not a person in sight.”
“Any tracks in the snow?” Peter asked. “We’re all thinking we have a windigo in our neighborhood.”
“Peter.” Linda chastised.
“Come on, you have to admit, there’s something lurking around our neighborhood. The Bennington’s car was keyed with long scratches, something chased their kids down the street, and Barbara Williams two streets over said that someone was looking in her window.” Peter turned to Max. “What was it you two saw recently?”
“I don’t know.” Max admitted. “I was driving, so I didn’t really catch sight of it.”
“But your headlights had to have hit it.” Peter observed.
“Yeah, but it was just black. No details at all. Maddy saw it as we passed by.”
“I saw its eyes. It was on four legs and had shoulders higher than 6-feet tall.”
Linda sucked in her breath. “Oh, my. That sounds grisly.”
“This thing we just caught a glimpse of was white.” Max noted.
“Maybe another windigo?” Peter offered.
“Listen to you, Peter.” Linda scolded. “You sound like you believe in windigos.”
“I’m not closed to the idea.” Peter admitted. “I haven’t seen one, but I’ve heard people’s stories. They’re very compelling. We know weird things happen near the quarry. I’m not surprised if what we saw was some kind of windigo that somehow found its way to our neighborhood.”
“A polar bear one?” Madeline remarked.
The tension broke and everyone chuckled.
“More than likely it was someone in a white hooded winter coat.” She guided everyone back to the kitchen for hot drinks.
The family put on their coats and left, turning on the motion detector light.
“Hey, Max?” Peter asked as they stepped onto the porch. “Was the motion detector light on when you came out after the…” He looked at the children “person?”
“Yeah, there was plenty of light.” Max admitted.
“Well, at least we know they entered from the front and followed the edge of the house.
Peter turned and stopped.
“Hey, where’s your snowman, Billy?”
Billy rushed forward. “Not again!”
“Someone keeps taking the snowman and putting him back.” Max explained.
“Why the hell would they do that?” Peter laughed. “Hey, look at this.” He nodded to the ground.
“Look at that!” Max shook his head. “They dragged it along the side of the house. Look at the track.” He pointed.
Madeline didn’t like this at all.
“That thumping and white thing must have been the person dragging the snowman away.” Max surmised.
“And his stick arm scraped the window, making that sound.” Madeline felt a flood of relief. This windigo talk was really upsetting her and she didn’t want Billy to hear of it and fear his new home.
“So, you think this prankster will bring it back again?”
“By morning it’ll be back.” Max sighed.
“I’ve never heard of anything like that.” Peter admitted. “We’ll keep our eyes open. It might not be a windigo issue at all, just a neighborhood nutcase.”
“I’m not sure which one is more threatening.” Linda shivered.
“Here’s some cocoa, honey.” Madeline set it down on Billy’s bedside table. He was curled up under a blanket on the window seat studying the yard below as new flakes of snow dropped.
“You’re really staying up all night?” She asked.
“Good thing you took a nap.” She commented as she left.
He’d proposed the idea to have a stakeout and see who was moving their snowman. At first Madeline didn’t want to encourage him to become frightened or to rush outside and act as her defender. Still, she understood, as the man of the house, he now felt a responsibility to answer such puzzles. She made a compromise, asking Max over too. She explained that Billy was to report activity and Max would chase the perpetrator. With them downstairs for the stakeout, sitting before the fire with some hot cocoa with Irish cream, they snuggled comfortably.
“Do you have an idea who you think might be doing it?” She asked Max.
“No. Not a clue. The older boys just don’t have the attention span for it. Someone has a warped sense of humor.”
“I guess they’re not hurting anything.” She shrugged.
“You know what Norman Pepper told me?”
“He said his brother was in the SUV in front of us. He saw it too”
“Yeah. He said they just saw a black mass coming onto the roadway and darted around it. No details. Just like what we saw.”
She shivered recalling the eyes staring back from a mass of absolute blackness.
“I’ve heard the stories all my life and people reporting things along the tracks and quarry. I admit I’ve never spent any time down there, just to drive through, but until the other night, I thought it was all a bunch of legends. Maybe they’re right. Maybe it’s in the rocks.”
“Why do they think it’s the rocks?”
“The Native American legend says that a man on a vision question believed he must swallow a rock to become part of the earth. It resulted in the ability to shapeshift. They believed he still wanders the land and changes shape at will. Now, the town over the centuries has changed the stories around. They came to the conclusion the rocks made the animals in the woods become strange. My high school science teacher thought it was a high concentration of gases from mining that made people see things.”
“They’re all ridiculous.” She scoffed.
“Between this snowman thief and that dark thing on the roadway, I’m beginning to see why such legends began.” He remarked. “There has to be a logical--”
“Mom! Mom!” Billy rushed the stairs in a storm of excitement. “The light went on and I saw it! I saw it!”
“You saw what?” She asked as Billy swung open the front door.
She chased him down with his coat trying to struggle it onto his flailing arms. Max came out, putting himself before them to search the well lit area. His eyes followed the trench of snow towards the roadway.
The tone of his disbelief had Madeline swinging her head up from helping Billy into his jacket. She squinted out toward the roadway where a single streetlight lit the snowman heaving forward with stilted jerks, its tree limbed arms shook.
“W-what’s pulling it?” She asked Max, but could tell by his expression he was as horrified as she was.
“Don’t go after it!” She screamed out, but Max was already catching up to it just as a car slowed down to a stop and the window rolled down.
Peter waved his arm. “What's that?” He screamed.
A truck coming the other direction slammed on its breaks just short of the awkwardly moving mass.
“What the hell is going on!” Norman Pepper screamed as he came down from his truck and tackled the snowman. The mass of hard frozen snow cracked into half and fell to the ground with a thud.
“Sorry, Billy.” The big man apologized as he handed him the scarf and hat from the crusty remains.
Billy went to his knees and sifted through the pile of snow. Madeline bit her lip, waiting to see what he would say about the destruction of his snowman.
Billy stood back up, something in each mitten.
“Look! I found my diamonds.”
“Your diamonds?” Norman frowned at him and stooped down to look at the two stones. He picked one up and looked at it in the bright glow of his truck’s headlights. “Son, that’s not a diamond. It’s quartz rock. Only place we have that is down by the quarry.” He looked over at Madeline.
“When we came into town, we stopped near the quarries for a picnic.”
“I’ll be.” He shook his head. “Now, Billy, these are special rocks. I’d suggest you have your mama put them back at the quarry where they belong. We’ll get you some new eyes for the next snowman.” He patted him on the head.
“Okay.” Billy shrugged and raced away to begin the task in the glow of the motion-activated light.
“Y-you’re telling us that s-snowman became animated because of the quartz r-rock?” Madeline asked, her teeth chattering uncontrollably.
“That’s exactly what I’m saying.” Norman said with great confidence.
Billy stepped back from the snowman and studied it.
“I think I like these better than the buttons.” He studied the thread spool eyes.
“They’re perfect.” Madeline laughed.
“Mom, he’ll be here until it warms up and he melts, right?”
“I mean, he’s not going to go for a walk, right?”
She nodded. “He’s not going anywhere, honey.”
“Good.” He grinned. “Cause I wanna make him a wife and a couple of kids and maybe a dog!”
“That’s a lot of work. I guess I should start making the hot cocoa for you young men.”
“Yup.” He nodded and rushed off.
Max stepped out onto the porch and put his arm around Madeline. She leaned into him.
“I heard in the springtime a bunch of the men around here are going to rent some front loaders and try and push the rocks along the tracks back into the quarry pit. Away from the roadways.” He offered.
Madeline smiled up at him and exhaled with relief, her eyes following Max’s as he frowned at the yard.
A single huge crow was pecking at the ground along the walkway where the boys left the remains of their lunch, house keys, toys, and other paraphernalia. The black bird picked out a glinting object to fly away with.
“That wasn’t what it looked like, was it?” Madeline frowned, tension filling her body again.
“Yup.” Max nodded as they watched it disappear behind the trees in the distance. “Quartz.”