Wind howling, blowing snow...
And more snow was forecasted, had fallen considerably this winter, still on the ground, a real white Christmas for New England.
I had secured all the doors and windows and had made sure all the animals in the barn were safe and warm...but the wintry howling persisted, and as I was getting comfy in my over-stuffed chair, about to take a sip of my oh, so hot cocoa, there came an awful loud bang, BANG, from outside in the yard.
Startled, I turned around to part the curtains and saw, through the driving snow and blinding black of night, the doors of the barn whipping back and forth against their hinges...how they became unlatched is anyone's guess for it was with a steel sliding bolt that I had locked them earlier...
It was a little past 11:30 p.m., on Christmas Eve, but even solace cannot be enjoyed on this night when a farmer's chattel are in jeopardy.
I jumped from my cozy corner and went to the foyer, put on a dark olive-drab winter coat and matching mackintosh galoshes and steeled myself as I unlatched the front door for those frigid and frozen environs.
As the door opened, the wind took over and it slipped through my fingers to bang loudly against the side wall. This was a vicious storm, one that could not be tamed in time for Christmas I felt but one that I had to address to protect my flock regardless.
As I lowered my face to steal myself from the oncoming wind and sleet, I was pelted with icy crystals that hit me so hard it felt like a thousand tiny daggers attacking my very soul.
Farmhands gone home early for Christmas Eve, I only had myself to count on and my animals needed me.
As I fought against the vicious storm, bending down and forward, every foot I advanced I felt like I took two feet back, but eventually made it, I did, to the old weather-beaten double doors. With all my might, I pulled and stretched my body to grab them and put them back into place, eventually, successfully, securing them, with me now on the inside of the sheltering barn to see if all was well with my furry flock.
I heard a mass of mooing and whinnying, all my beloved creatures were understandably upset. With the wind and snow at bay, thanks to the now re-latched barn doors, they calmed down a might as I lit a hurricane lamp with a stiff wooden match, all set aside on an adjoining shelf for this very situation.
As the darkness dissolved with the growing glow from the flickering wick, my eyes regained their sight and I walked towards the stalls, visiting each in turn, to pet my flock on the brows of their heads, assuring them with my calmed voice and the warmth of my hand that I was there and all would be well. They soon, all horses and cows and even my big old mother sow, settled down, all knew I was there and that all would be well.
But, as I made my way around the barn, I heard a sporadic kind of grinding, a kind of scraping, scuffling sound, a worrisome noise. It was coming from above, way above, as I gazed towards the source. My heart skipped beats, thinking I was not alone. I grabbed at the ladder which made access to the loft, and as I gingerly made my feet climb, I feared for what I would find.
Laying back on my heels, expecting the worse, I lifted the lamp to view the surrounds. Nothing, nothing at all...just dry hay and silence, no movement, no sight. I had begun to think that what I had heard was not real, but just my mind racing with the howling of the wind.
I lowered my lamp and myself, breathing calmly once more..and as I made my way to the barn doors, that scraping sound was heard yet again...an awful, rash, raw sound, loud and repeating, from still up above. I decided it must be the branches of trees hitting the outside of the barn roof, convincing myself that my imagination was not helping to relax and realize and rationalize the night.
Amid the still unrelenting wind and wild snow, I used all my might and determination to finally get the barn doors to latch on the outside once more. My animals were safe and I was headed for home.
The lone, bare light bulb overhead of the barn doors gave me enough light to see my way to the house, the hurricane lamp once again doused and laying on the inside barn shelf. As I fought through the storm and got half way across the yard, I saw, to my surprise, the front door of my house wide open, whipping wildly in the wind, yet I was sure I had properly secured it upon my leaving.
I rushed as best I could, to reach the porch, to regain control of the door and to throw myself inside it’s warm environs, leaving the wild weather outside.
Pushing with all my might, the door hit its latch, and locked it, I did, once more. Wet and cold but relieved, I regained my composure and headed for the kitchen, my original cup of cocoa surely cold by now.
As the kettle simmered on the stove, I reached out and grabbed my big butcher knife to slice up some summer sausage and cheese for a sandwich…hard work fighting the elements and I was famished. CREAK, CREAK, GROAN!…
Was all I heard…and I froze into place. MY butcher knife still very much in my hand as I wheeled around on my heels to see nothing and no one behind me. The kitchen was empty… but for me. SQUEAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Went the kettle, and I jumped at the noise. Berating myself for letting my imagination riot, I regained my composure, made my second cup of cocoa and retired to the parlour once more. Tick-tock, Tick-tock, Tick-tock, went my hall Grandfather clock…it was nearing midnight now. The weather outside was frightful but my fire was so delightful, as the saying goes, my animals all tucked in safely for the night…it would be a peaceful Christmas after all… CREEEEEEEEAK! “Who’s there?!” I yelled. Someone WAS inside my home! I just knew it! I HAD latched that front door when I went to the barn, I just knew that too.
As I got up yet again from my comfy chair, I picked up the fireplace poker for reassurance and scoured the house. As I took steps, I was sure someone did also behind me, but when I would turn around, no one was there. I toured, up and downstairs, even gingerly canvassed the basement, to no avail. Tired, stressed, I returned to the kitchen to reach for the whiskey bottle in the cupboard, thinking a shot might help my nerves, and upon entering, my eyes spied the difference right away…
The butcher knife was gone from the cutting board! Vanished. I furiously looked around to all the counters, the kitchen table, even the butcher block where it was housed and the kitchen sink…no where…it had disappeared! And it did not walk away by itself…I wasn’t alone! PLUNK, KERPLUNK, BANG, SCUFFLE!
Were the noises that I heard next, originating now from the parlour and I was frozen with fear.
I crept back to the entrance of that room and spied around the corner, all was as I had left it, save for my cocoa and sandwich, which were now all gone, all drank and eaten, only crumbs left on the plate, this person who was unknown and too near to me was playing with me and now I was in fear for my life.
Running for the front door, I had had enough. Truck keys, poker, still in my hand, I wrenched open the door and as the wind howled and the snow spit in my face, a huge shadow graced my porch and covered me and I almost fainted from the sight. “Here you are, Barbie.” as He handed me the butcher knife, “Tried to find the appropriate tool in your barn, couldn’t. Had to cut the ice off around Rudolph's hooves, his overweight hooves made for a bad landing on your barn roof, I say, meant to hit your house roof, but these things will happen. Your fire prevented me from climbing down the chimney anyways, hope I gave you what you wanted, Dear, thank-you for that lovely snack, I was starving! All your well-deserved gifts are now under your tree in the parlour. Ho! Ho! HO! Merrrrrrry Christmas!”
Before I could catch my breath and recover my composure, He was gone, like a flash. A white light streamed across the sky and jingle bells could be heard from the sleigh as his reindeer team alit from my barn roof.
Pokers and butcher knives are strange objects to hold, on your porch, on the Eve of Christmas….