I was still shaking when I heard my wife trot down the stairs of our home. I held a trembling cup of coffee in my hand, ripples radiating through it as if caught in an earthquake.
“Babe? Why are you up so early?” she yawned, her messy blonde hair spiraling down her shoulders.
I stared out the window behind her. Snow was still falling. In the dusky predawn glow, I could see the skeletal shadows of once proud oaks clawing at the overcast sky.
She sat down in front of me, taking my hand. “Babe…you haven’t been right since you got back from hunting earlier. Is everything okay?” she asked, her green eyes full of concern.
I closed my eyes. “You’ll think I’m insane.” I murmured.
She squeezed my hand a little tighter and whispered sweetly. “You know I won’t. You can tell me anything.”
So I took a deep breath and told her…
Like Nimrod of old, I always considered myself a legendary hunter. I didn’t know if it was because of the Mohawk tribal blood running in my veins, or just the thrill of the chase. But I knew one thing: this is what I lived for. On this morning, I ventured out before dark to try to stalk a buck that I had seen on my trail camera. It was deep in the woods among a grove of gnarled oaks and twisted hickory. The icy wind clawed at my face like a vulture. A ghostly, light snow slowly drifted from the aether above.
I trudged on, the crunch of the snow echoing against the unearthly stillness. I reached for my camera and was about to set up my tent when something caught my eye. A wispy figure moved quietly towards my position. Thinking it must be the monster piece of venison I sought to take home today, I crouched behind a bush. I peered out like a ninja, my eye to the scope.
The wind picked up a bit. I grumbled, feeling stupid, “I’m too young to be seeing things!” I scolded myself.
The sun was sinking like a stone thrown into a lake. A few minutes later, I saw another shadow, this time closer. I opened the blind a bit more to get a better view. It moved slowly, lumbering through the thicket. I grabbed my binoculars and squinted through them.
It was a person!
Thinking it was another hunter, I whistled, “Hey buddy! You need some blaze orange or something!”
The shadow never even looked my way but kept trudging through the deep snow. I got worried. The way he was limping, he could have seriously been hurt and needed help. I couldn’t call myself a good person if I didn’t go check on him, so I put my gun down and trekked towards the thicket.
The silhouette meandered through the trees, just out of reach. I called out time-after-time but got nothing in response. I started running after it, nearly face-planting into a snowbank. As I gained on the shadow, I realized it wasn’t another hunter, but a woman in a flowing dress. I couldn’t see her face, only her raven black hair that cascaded like a river of silk down her back.
“Ma’am, you’re going to freeze to death. Let me help you. I used to be a firefighter.”
Still, without flinching, she glided through the snow just out of reach. There was a clearing just ahead. I swiped a prickly branch away from my face and bounded into the glade.
She was gone.
I cupped my hands to my mouth. “Hello!?” I howled.
The only answer was the sweep of wind across the pristine winter landscape. The rugged shape of a chimney at the far edge caught my eye, and like a magnet, it pulled me in. The chimney was old and cracked, barely holding itself together. It swayed cautiously as the wind’s fury assaulted it. Splinters of an antique wooden floor reduced to mere toothpicks popped above the snow, desperately clinging to the light of day.
I ran my hand along the bricks of the ruins, imagining what this house might have looked like in its glory days. A piercing sob quickly cut into my daydreaming.
I spun around, “H-hey!!” I screeched.
The sobbing grew louder. It seemed to emanate from every direction, even from the stony gray sky above. The snow suddenly began falling harder, pelting me with wet, heavy flakes. A wicked screech came from behind me as a bony, icy hand touched my shoulder. I jumped and turned to see the lady standing there. I stumbled backward in terror. Her face was pale and cracked, black hollow eyes bored into mine, her arms swung lifelessly at her side. Her dress was sky blue and torn to shreds, her legs and feet were missing. She just hovered in front of me, her hair waving in the snowbound breeze. She opened her mouth and screeched again, which knocked me out of my stupor.
I bolted back through the woods. Brambles and branches bombarded my body and tore my face like razors. The screeching and sobbing surrounded me. I didn’t stop to get my rifle. I ran until my feet hit my front steps. I spent the rest of the night pacing around, trying to make sense of it all. My skin burned where the wraith touched me. I slowly peeled back my shirt to take a look. The skin was cracked and blackened…frostbite. I didn’t sleep at all that night.
My wife’s eyes widened, her eyebrow cocked. “Um… okay… You haven’t been drinking, have you?” she groaned.
I yanked my hand away. “I haven’t brought home a drink in years!” I protested. “But I think I might have brought her home with me…”
My wife’s nose crinkled. “Why would you think that?” She snorted. I leaned down and looked into her eyes before I whispered, “Because she’s in the window behind you.”