I didn't win, which is fine - that wasn't really the point of the exercise. But I ended up with a little ghost story I'm rather pleased with. So here it is, as a bit of a Halloween present.
I remember when I loved the sound of the winter winds.
There was something cozy about hearing their lonely travels high in the tree branches that arched over our home. I shared a garret with my sister, and we would stay awake on cold November nights,
tormenting each other with cold toes and whispering secrets while the sky whistled and wailed above us.
Then I grew up and married, and Robert and I traded our childhood home on the Ohio for a farmstead in the North Woods. We bought the cabin, a larger place in clearing with the coop already built and the well already dug, from a man who had moved back East after his wife died.
“Consumption,” our nearest neighbor, a woman tough as her tanned skin, told me. “She hated it here, and the winter killed her.”
The first two months were wonderful. It could have been lonely, a half-day’s ride from town. But we had each other and the work of preparing for the oncoming winter, and when fall came our farmstead seemed like a fairy land, festooned in golds and crimsons and rich with the smell of apples. We laughed often and dreamed of the next year’s plantings.
But then the cold set in. It seemed as if it were some strange animal thing, this cold that came on so quickly after the leaves fell. The nights grew longer, and our store of firewood grew smaller.
“Maybe we should have stayed in Indiana until spring,”I said.
“The first winter is always the hardest,” Robert answered.
When the first snows fell and we discovered just how far away town was. The north wind howled high above us. Like the cold it seemed less a force of nature than an animal thing, the breath of some lost creature.
When our little cat disappeared, Robert laughed and said, “It’s a cat. They wander.”
When two of the hens went missing, he shrugged and said, “It’s a fox. I’ll find where it got in.”
When the calf vanished, he said nothing.
But by silent assent we began doing our chores together and only in the sunlit hours. I tried to ignore the feeling that I was being watched, that we were not alone in our little clearing in the great bone
white woods. It was ridiculous, after all.
The wind was only wind.
The bitter cold was only winter’s chill.
The dead do not wander, hungry.
But then came the night that the winds were especially fierce, rising in a fevered crescendo. I awoke to find Robert sitting up, wrapped in a quilt.
“Do you hear that?” he asked me.
“The wind?” I said.
“No,” he said. “The voice in the wind. She’s so alone…”
I told him I didn’t and coaxed him back to bed.
On the next night, he couldn’t sleep at all.
“Don’t you hear that?” he asked. “Her nails, scratching at the roof?”
“It’s only the branches,” I said.
By the third, he was delirious and covered in sweat. I tried to stay awake, to comfort him. But by the time the sun rose I had slipped into sleep, and I arose in an empty cabin.
The winds were silent. I didn’t wait to pack my things. I threw on Robert’s greatcoat, pulled on my gloves and heavy boots, and fled.
By March, I was back home, living with my sister.
I no longer love to hear the winter winds high in the sycamores. There is nothing cozy about them. Instead, they carry the sound of Robert’s voice.
He is calling my name.