Winter Demons

Barren winter branches waved in the stiff breeze as Amy rushed down the street eager to get home before the sun fully set. The early hour at which the small town seemed to shut down in winter made it difficult to get her errands done but, like everyone else, she knew the consequences of being out too long after dark. Extra street lights had done nothing to fend them off, they were sly, they knew that it was only the sun's light that could harm them.

She looked down her driveway; edges lined with plowed up snow, her porch light was already on, beckoning her home. In her front yard two large trees stood like sentries, waiting for her to pass. In the summer, filled with leaves, they were inviting, sheltering even, but with leaves gone the spindle like sticks clicked as they brushed against each other. Or maybe it was them, they hid in the trees. Stick-like creatures, with long many-jointed fingers waited in the boughs.

No one knew much about them, just that every winter as the days grew shorter and the darkness of the night stretched longer they appeared. If you were lucky you only caught glimpses of them from your window as they scurried across the snow, so quickly they hardly sunk in. If you were unlucky, well, the only thing people would find left of you were the drag marks through the snow between their skittering footprints. That is why the town closed up early. Everyone knew but no one would say. Whispered sentiments of 'hurry home' were the only verbal acknowledgements of the creatures.

Tonight Amy was a little late, she had forgotten to take into account how quickly the days shifted, just last week it was still light at 6:15, now it was dark. She was almost there, shopping bag bundled in her arms and held tightly to her chest as she peered between the two trees. She tried to see any movement but the wind made it impossible to tell a shaking branch from the body of one of the creatures.

Her parents must be worried, they constantly warned her about this. Now though there was nothing to do; they were inside, lights on, waiting. It was less than fifty yards, and the longer she waited the darker it would get. She took a deep breath, put her head down and started walking in hurried strides towards the house. She wanted to run but the ground was slippery and she didn't want to chance falling.

Half way there she was nearly between the trees. She couldn't help turning her head to stare into them. Eyes straining to see the danger. She wasn't sure but she thought one branch moved in the wrong direction. Afraid to risk it, she moved forward. Walking as fast as she could, she didn't stop when she thought that she heard something behind her. A whizzing sound different from the wind in her ears, and another, and another.

Ten steps to the porch now. She knew the distances; the rock with the house number was ten steps, the start of the brick path was six. She was so close now, but so were the noises behind her; alongside of her. She willed her feet to move faster, to keep traction. Amy looked up, her father stood in the doorway, holding out a hand.

Two steps and she would reach the porch, then another two to cross it and she would be inside; safe. More whizzing behind her, even closer now, she could hear the tiny snaps and clicks that before she thought were just from the trees.

Last step and her father reached out, he took the bag and her mother grabbed for her. Pulling her through the threshold her father slammed the door. No one turned around for a long moment. With the porch light on they could see a semi-circle lit in the snow. Alongside the path that she had walked were streaks of light-footed steps from the trees to the bottom of the stairs. Her parents couldn't stand to look and went about preparing dinner but Amy stared out the window, tracing the lines back from the porch to the trunks. In the nearest tree she was certain that she could see a branch that didn't sway in the same direction as the others.

Copyright © 2016 by Erica Damon

All rights reserved.

First published December 16th 2016 as part of the 2016 Indie Authors Advent Calendar