The snow had come in thick and dry that year with the texture of cotton. It lightly covered the mountainous landscape and the rough hills making the scraggly pines seem soft, even mystical, in the moonlight.
Magdalene leaned her face against the cold glass of the Suburban’s window as they headed up the steep incline that led to her family’s new house. The move from town had been rough for her. The house, though at first had seemed creepy and unique, now seemed to be nothing but hard work and misery. She was not built for a wood heated dilapidated house, preferring her mother’s upscale city apartment which had a small knob that one could turn to make the house hotter or cooler. It had none of the chopping wood in the night cold, none of the piling wood in her arms, getting scratched by the spiky wood, no having to carry loads of wood inside to the foyer of the old mining mill.
The city place also had none of the weirdness that the ancient house her dad bought seemed to possess. With the old mine sitting less than 200 feet from their front door, Magdalene shivered. The gaping hole led down into a black world that no one alive knew about any more; only the dead miners could remember those paths through the great mountains. Her father never failed to remind her.
“Stay out of that mine, Maggie, it isn’t safe.”
But he need not have worried. With the cold drafts of air that blew up through its entrance, lightly carrying that coppery earth smell along with an underlying sense of wrongness that Magdalene couldn’t identify, a million dollars could not have persuaded her to enter that place. Though she was safe in the warm car, remembering the mine she shivered, and then sighed deeply. Her father looked over briefly, his dark face looking slightly amused in the night as a car going the opposite direction briefly lit up his cloaked features.
“You okay, sweetie?”
Magdalene sighed again, a bit dramatically she knew, but she could not help it. She felt close to tears at the prospect of having to stoke the stoves again, having to spend another night in the old creaky, drafty place, even at the thought that her parents would no longer be together. She knew she should be mature about it, she was 12 after all, but the situation still made her feel like someone had punched her in the stomach. Her father seemed to sense her disquiet, as he so often did.
“It will get easier, Maggie. Please just try and be patient. As soon as I can afford it, we will put in electrical heating. And before you know it we will have a regular castle out here in these old hills.”
His weathered face smiled at her, she knew, but in the darkness of the car it now appeared he was grimacing rather than grinning.
Magdalene tried to smile in return and turned her head back to staring out at the snowflakes hitting the windows. They seemed alive as they swirled and jumped hypnotically. Spinning and sometimes getting caught on the window only to melt from the heat of her face on the pane. Pointless beauty, pointless death, the older Magdalene got the more she felt the pointlessness of everything. Maybe she was turning into a typical teenager.
The house slowly appeared as they rounded the last hill before home. It was completely black, only its giant dark outline could be seen. The turret like room topped the angled structure, a crown for a broken king. It had been a silver mill back in the mid 1800s, making money for years for men who were crazy enough to head to Colorado in search of riches during the brief ‘silver rush’ of the period. But once the silver had been reaped from the mine, it had closed, standing empty and forgotten for decades, the waters poisoned, the trees cut down and ground muddied into a nasty, viscous pulp; the place had seemed irredeemable.
But then a developer during the mid 1980s Colorado real estate boom had come and fixed up the place, adding skylights, wood floors, planting trees and landscaping the raped lands. He had then put it on the market as a “historically important fixer upper” for far less than it should have been worth. But still it had remained empty, no one wanting to brave the cold winters up here in the hills, not wanting to chance the danger of having a open mine sitting so close to ones house.
Her father had changed all of that. Her dad was a maverick of sorts, never lived by the rules he felt others made just to annoy him and when he and Magdalene’s mother had divorced, he had quickly taken what little money he did have and poured it into the old place. He took pride in the fact that their family would be the first to live there since the miners.
The pulled into the driveway and her father turned off the car. The night was as still as an icy winters indigo pond, the blues and blacks contrasting with the stark white sheet laid across the land. It felt like something was waiting to breath, it bothered Magdalene.
He turned and smiled at her.
“Ummm, aren’t we going inside?”
He said nothing for a minute, his mind clearly somewhere else. After another minute of nothing Magdalene was about to say something again when he suddenly moved.
“Well, guess we better get inside. Can you please wake up Daniel?”
She got out of the car and opened the back door. Her little brother was sound asleep in his car seat, his light golden hair appearing ghostly in the moonlit night. She was jealous of this, remembering that not very long ago life had seemed to be simple, just naps, toys, playing. Her dad and mom together.
“Wake up, sleepy head.”
As she knew it would be, the house was deathly cold, her breath felt like fire as she breathed on her free hand using her left to hold her little brother tightly. The fire from the morning before had long ago burned out and not a bit of heat remained in the house, it was like it had sucked up the warmth and froze it within its black insides, spitting it back out as it exhaled in ice crystals and cold.
She carefully led her brother up the stairs to the main level, he was still groggy from the nap in the car and she didn’t want him to trip on the steep stairway. She heard her dad’s feet on the stairs behind her, creak, thump, creak, thump, his weight moving the wood of the structure making it vibrated with his ascent, pushing life into its decrepit wood bones through the soles of his boots.
This whole place is so fucking old I won’t be surprised when it falls down.
She felt embarrassed by the nastiness of her thought. She knew her dad was trying hard and she loved him, believed in him. She made a mental note to be kinder.
They arrived at the kitchen where she flipped on the lights. The place didn’t look so bad she told herself, it just was so damn cold. Her brother walked over to a couch that sat in the corner of the cavernous room and lay back down, immediately putting his small thumb back in his mouth.
“Maggie, just go ahead take him to bed. He’s tired from the move. I’ll get that fire rekindled.”
She secretly felt relief. She realized, a bit annoyed with herself at her immaturity, that it wasn’t the hard work she was so angry about; the truth was she was scared of that mine. And going out into the night and seeing its black mouth open.
Open and waiting, open and hungry. A voice from deep within whispered.
It was too much for her imagination. She would rather freeze than go out there and deal with that place.
Or whatever lives there… the voice responded.
A noise awoke her. The house was completely still, not a sound could be heard besides her rapid breathing. She stayed as still as she could; trying to place what it had been interrupting her sleep. But nothing repeated. She rolled over and looked at her bedside clock. The numbers flashed twelve in a neon assault on the absolute night, on and off, on and off.
“Great, the power went out again.”
Magdalene rolled back and tried to bunch herself under her many blankets, attempting to get comfortable enough to fall back asleep again. But she was awake and something felt wrong. If asked she wouldn’t have been able to describe why. But somehow she knew things were askew, crooked. She sat up and reached under her top mattress where she kept her emergency flashlight.
Because the power had been so fickle since they had moved in, her father had given her the light so she would be able to get to the bathroom, and to maybe make her feel better she guessed. She had been used to the night in the city where ‘night’ really was almost a figurative term. Lights were always on, the stars obliterated by their electric false warmth. Out here when the moon ducked behind the clouds one would be lucky to see ones hand a foot in front of ones face.
She turned on the light. Her room looked normal. Maybe she had been dreaming something bad. Echoes of something…living in the mountain. A man maybe? Or trolls? She shook her head at this, feeling stupid and over reactionary. He father had made the mistake of telling her the legends his father had told him about the hills.
When she was little he had taken her out to the country while he had surveyed the geology for the state. To make the time more interesting, he told her what Granddad told him, about the people who lived deep in the mountains, how they never came out, how they ate unwary children who wandered too close to their lair. And that lair, of course it had been the old mines that riddled the hills of Colorado like a cancer.
“Jesus, quit thinking about it, Magdalene.”
She remonstrated herself out loud as she headed down the stairs carefully to her dads room to tell him the power was out. She knew she really didn’t need to tell him now, it could wait until morning, but she needed to see someone, hear someone. It was too still, too alone with the lights all off and the winter gales bearing down on the creaky old mill.
Magdalene got to his room and slowly opened the door, having reconsidered the idea of waking him and having decided that instead she would just look in on him just to know someone else was indeed here besides her. The door swung open and the room was brighter than she had guessed it would be. The clouds had parted and the now late night yellowish tinged light from the moon bathed the room and the empty bed. Her father was not here. Her heart jumped a bit, but she told herself immediately that he must have headed down to the foyer to check on the fuses.
She backed out of the room and turned back to the stairs. There was a figure there, squat, definitely not her father. And a smell, an old animal smell. She jumped back slamming into the opened door with her elbow. Pain shot up her arm from her funny bone as she crashed to the floor caught off balance, but it did nothing to distract her from the figure. She turned the light towards it, but it ran back down into the lower levels of the house.
Magdalene got up and then stopped. What had she just seen? Was it her brother? It had seemed too tall but if it was him she had better get him back to bed. She couldn’t logically explain the smell but like all humans she simply let that go. It didn’t fit in reality; it didn’t make sense so therefore it didn’t exist.
She ran down the stairs hoping to catch what she was sure was her little brother playing a joke on her.
“Daniel! Hey, get back here! You’re going to trip in this dark!”
She shouted but her brother didn’t come back. She could hear something in the foyer.
A scurrying noise and then a sort of…crunching? She stopped to where she could shine the light down to the foyer now. The light barely reached the corners of the great concrete floored room. The cold air was wafting up from the depths, and along with the air came that smell again.
“Dad?” her voice squeaked, it sounded tinny, small, unreal. And there was no response.
Part of her mind was getting nervous now, telling her not to go down there, no matter what stay away from the foyer, go back to bed, go to sleep. But another part, the part of her learning to be an adult argued against this course of action. She was being dumb. She needed to find out what was going on and put her brother back to bed. He could get hurt.
Slowly she crept down the stairs, the distant corners still dark though her flashlight worked well. The noises became louder, crunching, dragging. As she reached the bottom of the steps she felt something grab her from beneath the stairs, a hand like a talon wrapped itself painfully around her ankle. It unbalanced her and she fell for the second time that night.
Her face hit the floor and the air was knocked out of her stomach. Her flashlight rolled away and as it rolled flashed over the walls, and that corner she couldn’t see from the top of the stairs. There was a group of people, all small and quite square shaped grouped in that darkened corner. They all were closely pressed together around something. But before she could see exactly what it was they gathered around she felt the hand start to pull her.
It was unbearably strong and she slid towards it though she clawed the ground to try and get away. Soon she was pulled around and under the stairs. A dark figure stood above her as she rolled over to defend herself. She couldn’t see its features, but its eyes, she could see the eyes. They glowed like emeralds, burned her to her very core. They swam before her, dark stars spinning in a cosmos of chaos. She couldn’t move, the fear was like stone weights upon her. She sat mesmerized, terrified, so terrified that she disassociated, began to pee in her pants, she couldn’t help it. It grabbed her, and its breath was of the mine, it was of the mountain, it was old and bestial, terrible and infinite, their home invaded, it spent its wrath upon her. The ever hungry mouth opened, and then she knew only blackness.