Snow fell heavily on the village, coating everything thickly. Sarah glanced out the window, then back at the fire. There was no sign of her brothers, they were supposed to be back hours ago. Her father had already left the house to search for them, Sarah had been left behind to keep the fire lit. The food was cooked and ready to be eaten once everyone arrived home. She glanced out again, hoping to see the shapes of her brothers trudging through the snow, but there was only the flickering static of snowfall.
Sarah’s mother died when she was three, she had been caught out in a freak storm and had caught an illness. Since then it had just been Sarah, her father and her two brothers. She had suggested a few times that her father remarry, but he had sidestepped those conversations each time. She let out a little frustrated noise, stood and went to the window. Where were they? They all should have been back long before now. She was tempted to grab her thick heavy coat and go out looking for them herself. No. That would be foolish. She tore herself away from the window and forced herself to check over the food. Nothing else needed to be done with it, but checking it all gave her something to do. The snow was falling heavily and it could turn into a blizzard at any moment. As it was she would probably get lost once she stepped outside the village. Already the paths were hidden, the only guiding lights would be those from the other houses and she could barely make out the lights of the houses closest to theirs.
Despite the warmth of the fire, Sarah started to feel a chill in her bones. She moved closer, trying to warm herself up. They’d seen plenty of blizzards and storms, but this one seemed different, felt different. She had stopped going to the window to look out, each time she did it felt as though someone was staring back at her. She sat with her back resolutely facing it. Her brothers and father would return, or else they would find somewhere to wait out the storm. They were good outdoorsmen, they would know what they were doing.
Someone knocked on the door, three rapid taps. Sarah jumped to her feet and pulled it open, not stopping to think that her brothers and father wouldn’t have knocked, they would have just walked right in. Cold air blasted through the door carrying snowflakes, Sarah started to shiver immediately as the cold robbed her of her warmth. An old, hunch woman was standing at the door, almost falling over. Sarah reached out and grabbed the old woman’s arm to steady her, “I’m sorry, I got lost in the storm, yours was the first house that I saw”
Sarah helped the old woman into the house and closed the door behind them. She guided the woman to a chair beside the fire.
“Here, sit down and warm yourself, I have some food waiting. It’s still hot and you are more than welcome to have some.”
Sarah put some soup into a bowl and some bread beside it, then she filled another plate with bits of everything she had cooked and placed it on a small table which she moved in front of the woman.
“Oh thank you, thank you so much.”
The woman was shivering violently, but as the time had passed she began to still.
“Were you out there long?”
“I’m not sure, it felt like hours. I was caught outside and I was all turned around.”
The woman began to eat slowly and carefully, Sarah frowned at her. She didn’t recognise the woman and she knew almost everyone in the village.
“Did you come from one of the other villages?”
“I’m not sure, nothing looked familiar, where is this?”
“Oh my, I’m way off course, I was in the woods near Clarkson.”
Sarah shook her head, that was at least an hour and a half walk at a good clip.
Sarah bit her lip slightly, “You didn’t happen to see any men did you? One who is quite tall, in a dark brown coat, the other two are a little taller than me and wearing light brown ones?”
“No, I’m sorry, I didn’t see anyone out there. Oh my, but I did get all confused. My son must be so worried about me. I was only visiting a friend in the woods, I should have stayed there until the storm passed” She shook her head, “I was foolish to venture out in it. Those men you asked about, are they your family?”
Sarah nodded, “My father and brothers. He went out to look for them when the storm started. They should have been back by now.”
“Well, maybe they found someone to take them in like I did” She took another spoonful of the soup. “The food is delicious, thank you so much.”
“It’s no bother at all, anyone would have done the same. I’m Sarah by the way.”
“Most people call me Mother Maggie, but you can call me just Maggie if you like.”
“Why Mother Maggie?”
Maggie grinned at Sarah, her face showing a thousand wrinkles, “I’m the oldest in the village. I live with my son and his wife and I helped them look after their children and now I help look after my great-grandchildren.”
Sarah had gathered some food for herself and started to eat. The conversation was helping to distract her from her thoughts of her brothers and father and in doing so had returned her appetite.
After the plates had been cleared away, Maggie looked out the window at the snow, “It’s going to be a long storm I’m afraid, it won’t break until late tomorrow at the earliest.”
“Are you sure?”
“Quite sure, when you get to my age you get a sense about these things.”
“Well, you can stay as long as you need. I’m sure your family is worried about you, but it’s too dangerous to travel.”
Maggie smiled, “you’re a good girl, thank you.”
Sarah stayed up late into the night as Maggie slept in her bed. She was too old to be sleeping in a chair or on the floor. Sarah didn’t mind too much as she couldn’t sleep anyway. She had begun to stare out the window again, hoping that she would see some sign of her family, or if not that, at least find some hope that they were ok. At some point she dozed off, head resting on her arms.
A loud bang woke her, something hit against the door again causing it to shudder in the frame. Sarah jumped up and ran over, as her hand touched the handle, Maggie cried out, “Don’t child!” Sarah froze, her hand resting on the doorknob. Something slammed into the door again, this time Sarah jumped back.
“Don’t let it in, it means to do us harm.”
“But what if it’s my father or my brothers?”
“It isn’t Sarah, can’t you sense it? The evil that has filed the air? No. It is no one you know.”
A voice cried out on the other side, chattering and cold, “Sarah, it’s us, please, please let us in. It’s so cold out here. So dreadfully cold.” It sounded like her brother.
“Don’t listen to it!”
“Please Sarah, we’ll die out here.” It was the voice of her other brother
There was the low mournful howl of a wolf, “Please, we’ve been attacked by animals, they’ll kill us if we don’t get inside.” Sarah began to shiver at the last voice, the voice of her father.
the door shuddered again as another blow stuck it.
Maggie grabbed Sarah and pulled her into a tight hug, “Don’t listen child, it’s lying to trick you. Oh, the lord has guided me here tonight to protect you I think.”
She hugged Sarah tighter as outside began to fill with the sound of screams, snarls and ripping. Sarah cried as Maggie gripped her tight, shuddering with each new noise.
Sarah didn’t know at what point the noise had finally stopped, nor did she know when Maggie had tucked her into bed. She moved into the sitting room and found it empty. Maggie had already left. There was no sign of the old woman. Sarah moved towards the door slowly. She took a deep breath, then pulled it open. Cold air flooded into the house. There were thick gouges in the wood of the door, and the snow in front of it was all churned up, but there was no blood, no sign of her brothers or father. She closed it over again slowly.
The storm had finally stopped, breaking in the late evening as Maggie had predicted. Sarah had spent the day fretting until finally, her father entered the house, her two brothers trailing behind. Sarah ran up and hugged them all tightly.
“What happened to you all? I was so worried!”
Her father frowned at her, “What do you mean? Nothing happened to us love, I just went out to get your brothers not half an hour ago. Is dinner ready? We’re all starving.”