That damned wind!
It never stops. Everything creaks, windows, doors, roof timbers. But beyond that cacophony there’s something else, a guttural sound borne on the endless wind from the forest above.
Can I ignore that call, pull the eiderdown over my head and wait for sleep? I know that’s impossible so I shiver out of bed into my clothes, into my coat, into my boots.
My fingers find difficulty in striking the match, in lighting and adjusting the wick of the lantern. Gloves bring blessed relief from the bitter cold.
The moon is not yet to be seen. The snow is deep, each step up to my knees, sweat dripping down inside my woollen shirt. Moving through the blackness, the lamp casts strange and troubling shadows, I try to listen beyond the sound of the permanently swaying pines.
That call, the one I’ve never heard until this night, is there uphill, to my left.
Under the shelter of the trees, the snow is less deep, but my steps are still slow, my body’s reluctance to move forward all too evident. Without warning, a shape flashes in front of me. There’s a flurry of feathers and I fall, hitting the frozen ground beneath the thin covering of snow. Winded, I lie still for minutes, my bones stiffening in the cold, praying the shape will not return.
Up on one knee, breathe, up on two legs, listen! Find the sound. It must be close to the pinfold.
I seek out the protection of the stone shelter, the sheep barely stirring as I enter their winter home. I sit cross-legged and wait, uncertain what to do. A voice in my head is insistent. I should forget what I have heard, turn for home and wait for the relief of daybreak, such as it is. But I know, in the end, I’ll be unable to resist that siren call.
Suddenly it’s close, louder, deeper, disturbing the sheep, terrifying me. The lantern’s flame gutters and is extinguished. I seek some kind of protection in amongst the flock. Ahead, through the arched entrance, there’s a sudden glow, ice-encrusted branches haloed by a thin moon emerging from dark clouds, a dream-like moment.
My momentary trance is shattered by the sound of movement through the pines. I cannot look away. It is with a certain relief that I see an elk centre-stage, antlers raised high, hunger in its eyes, nostrils flared. It is not the creature of my nightmares. But starved, they are unpredictable. As it bellows and paws the ground I want to shrink into the earth itself, amongst the tree roots and the burrows of hibernating animals.
The call is there again, spooking the elk which rears, eyes rolling before racing away downhill, branches shearing in its wake, leaving me to confront my fear.
No longer able to resist, I leave my sanctuary. As dark clouds slide across the moon, a pale light remains beyond the pinfold. I hear my mother’s voice reciting the saga of the Oost, a warning passed down from generation to generation.
Light and sound without form, curling its way inside, seeping through blood and tissue, taking control unseen.
Until this night, a story told in front of a roaring fire.
I stare transfixed into the pale light.