Thursday 23 December 2010

A Christmas Tale

The storm began at midnight on the winter solstice, which had been an ominous portent indeed. Carried forth upon a howling North wind, the tempest turned the night white and cloaked everything in its path beneath a three foot deep crust of snow. After twenty four hours of continuous snow fall Grain village had been cut off from the outside world, as the only road in and out of the place, the A228, had been blocked by the drifting snow that had been blown by the wind across the fields and marshes.

An unearthly silence then descended upon the entire village in the absence of traffic. Local folk threw more coal on the fire, or turned up the gas and electric, and sought to keep warm as the temperature dropped to below minus ten degrees centigrade. The old ones knew that travel in and out of the village was now impossible for days or even weeks and they began to ration and conserve their food and fuel knowing that sooner or later both would begin to run out.

The only happy people in the whole village were the local school children who ran whooping and laughing into the streets to play. Snowball fights and duels broke out spontaneously in the streets whilst passing pedestrians sought to dodge the flying missiles as they tramped to the local shop in search of milk and bread.

Soon bored with bombarding each other with snow balls, the children then set to work building a whole host of snowmen on their gardens and on lawns, forming them from hand patted snow in a variety of shapes and sizes that ranged from dwarfish to gigantic.

It was after the children had grown bored with building the snow men that their simple fun turned into malevolence and spite.

Every village has its own oddball.

In Grain it was Mary O’Reilly, a spinster and purported witch who lived in the old wooden house down the lane that led to the marsh. Her family had lived on the peninsula for over four hundred years, and according to local legend she was a witch the same as her mother had been a witch.

In her late eighties and a spinster, Mary hated the local children as much as they hated her. Those children she found trespassing on her land were apt to find themselves being chased away by the five wolf hounds she kept as guard dogs in her dilapidated cottage.

Footballs that bounced into her garden were punctured with a pitch fork, local cats vanished if they dared defile her rose beds and door to door salesmen were chased away with her walking stick if they dared disturb her. She was a woman who enjoyed being spiteful and petty, and as such entire generations of the village had come to despise her.

Waking to find the world outside covered in fresh snow, Mary threw on her heavy winter jacket, pulled on her wellingtoon boots and set off for the local shops to buy some food for her dogs.

As she walked along the main road, she had the misfortune to encounter a group of the local children in one of the temporary lulls between their snow ball fights.

One of the children had held a grudge against Mary since the summer, when he had been chased down the lane by Mary and hit with her walking stick for intruding onto her property in order to try and scrump some apples from the trees in her garden. He had fallen over, torn his trousers and scraped his knees and had been punished for doing so by his mother. Now he had the opportunity for revenge.

Mary was walking slowly down the street, probing the snow on the ground with her stick so as to ensure she did not fall over on the ice, when a volley of snow balls flew through the air and landed heavily on the back of her head.

With a scream Mary fell forwards and cracked her head hard on the pavement. As she lay still on the ground blood began to well from a wound on her forehead and freeze upon her face. The children scattered and ran when they saw what they had done.

Slowly she got to her knees and stood up, and turned back towards her cottage. She felt dizzy with shock and knew she would not be able to make it to the shops, so she turned back and walked slowly back to where she had came from, leaving a trail of blood spots on the snow, each frozen drop as red as a ruby.

Mary staggered up her garden path and went back inside her cottage, slamming the door shut behind her. Once inside she collapsed unconscious on the floor. She died alone within the hour.

The storm returned again that evening and dumped another three feet of snow on the village. The only way in and out of the village now was by helicopter, and the village store had been stripped clean of all supplies as panic buying began. In the middle of the night, the power went out as the weight of the snow brought down the pylons that carried the electricity into the village.

For three days and nights the storm stayed and dumped its cargo of snow on the village. Drifts ten feet high now gathered around cars and hedges, as the village disappeared totally into the snow.

The only place of refuge was the village pub which was run on fuel oil and it became a haven for those whose electricity and heat had failed. They gathered in the bar beside the log fire in the hearth at opening time and counted down the hours until closing time when they would be forced to return to their heatless frozen abodes.

It was just before midnight and the pub was preparing to close. The customers were buttoning their jackets and pulling on the hats and gloves to leave, when the main door to the pub burst open and someone threw themselves into the bar.

The stranger wore a balaclava and as he entered the bar he banged the door behind him and then bolted it shut. Then he collapsed unconscious on the floor. The landlord, Jim Clutterbuck, ran around the bar and knelt beside the man. He was unconscious but breathing. As he unbuttoned his coat and sought to take the mans jacket off so as to warm him by the fire, he noticed that the back of the mans jacket was shredded and torn open as if slashed open with a knife.

Then he noticed the blood pouring from the mans right leg and as he tried to move the man, a gush of warm blood sprayed across the carpet and wall.

“ Jesus Christ”, Jim shouted as the blood sprayed across his face, “ someone get me a tourniquet”.

One of the people in the bar slid a belt from his trousers, leant down beside Jim and tied the belt around the mans upper leg in order to stop the bleeding. The man whimpered but remained unconscious.

“ Someone call an ambulance “ Jim shouted, but he knew it was no good. The storm had blocked the roads and the falling snow and wind would make any helicopter landing impossible. The land line phone lines had been brought down by the snow and atmospheric conditions due to the storm meant mobile phone screens kept displaying the same ’No Network. Please Redial’.

They were on their own.

One of the regulars in the bar, a nurse in the local doctors surgery had grabbed the pub first aid kit that was on the bar and was busy pulling out bandages from the box.

“Its okay Jim“, she said reassuringly, “Let me have a look” and knelt down beside the stranger.

“ Oh my god”, she said as she pulled the balaclava up over the mans face , “ its Bill Wilson “ and the people in the bar, about a dozen or so, gasped and then moved forward to see the man they all knew as the local grocery shop owner.

“He must have been heading home from the shop “ someone said.

“ What the hell happened to him” someone else said, “He looks like he been stabbed or something” one of the drinkers ventured to suggest.

The nurse was busy wrapping the bandages around his leg when he started to come too.

As he awoke he screamed and pushed her away and tried to get to his feet, his arms flailing wildly in the air as he fought off some assailant in his delirium and shock caused by blood loss. Then as quick as he had awoken, he lapsed into unconsciousness again.

Suddenly something threw itself against the front door of the pub with a huge crash and began to bang against the locked door.

Outside they could hear a blood curdling howling, that was soon joined by others.

One of the regulars ran to the window and looked out into the car park.

Outside in the snow could be seen five huge dogs pacing to and fro.

“Oh my god”, the man said as he gazed out of the window, “Its marys dogs “.

Just as he said this the window exploded inwards and a huge dogs head burst through the broken glass, gripped him around the throat and dragged him through the window and out into the darkness.

Out in the car park the dogs pounced on the still struggling man and started to bite chunks from his flesh. He tried to struggle and raised his hands to ward the beasts off, until one of them lunged forweard and with a single snap of its jaws bit off all the fingers from his right hand leaving just a ragged stump that squirted blood onto the snow.

Everyone in the bar began to scream except for Jim the landlord, who ran forward and threw one of the heavy oak tables in the bar onto its side in order to cover the hole in the glass of the window. He did this just in time as a massive snout probed through the glass and tried to snap and bite at his hands.

Others also ran forward and began piling up chairs and tables in front of the window to seal the gap caused by the dog dragging the man through the window.

Jim then ran behind the bar and grabbed a bottle from the range of alcoholic drinks on the optics and ran upstairs. His footsteps could be heard banging up the stairs above the bar and then a moment later a ball of flame exploded outside the window. He had taken a bottle of brandy and with a wick torn from a bed sheet made a small incendiary bomb and then thrown it from the open upstairs window to drive the prowling beasts away.

As the red flames flickered and bloomed, the beasts backed away from the window and vanished into the night.

A few moments later the sound of breaking glass and screams drifted through the darkness. The dogs had attacked one of the houses adjacent to the pub and were killing its occupants.

“ Oh my god “, one of the men muttered “ they must have run out of food and started hunting people in the snow”.

The nurse stood up, dropped the bandages in her hands on the floor then looked at Jim and shook her head, “He’s gone”, she said, “ he had lost much blood” and walked back to the bar and sat down her hands trembling as she knocked back a glass of rum offered to her by one of the men behind the bar.

For three days and nights the dogs went from house to house in the village, hunting down and killing the occupants.

Finally on New Years Day the road was opened. At dawn a snow plough that had cut a lonely furrow through the drifts and into the village, trundled out of the gloom.

As the driver entered the village, some of the survivors came staggering from their houses waving at him to stop.

The driver then noticed the strange shapes that were laying in the road and which he was bulldozing out of the way, vaguely human in shape and frozen solid. Then he noticed that some of the houses had burnt to the ground and then been cloaked in fresh snow, the black charred roof joints protruding like burnt bones from the eviscerated remnants of the houses. Others had pools of what looked like blood on their paths and in their driveways.

He pulled the door open of the snow plough and stepped out of the vehicle to take a closer look. Then he noticed that people that he thought were waving at him were in fact screaming at him to stay in his cab.

As he turned around and walked back to the snow plough from out of the bushes beside his vehicle a wolf hound threw itself forward, clamped its massive jaws around his throat and dragged him to the ground.

As he tried to scream its fangs tore through his windpipe and ripped his throat out.

The last thing he saw were the other dogs running forward to share their prize as the people in the street ran back indoors.

The snow had begun to fall again, and as the wind began to stiffen the dogs renewed their hunt.

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