A widower lived with his two sons in the woods.  They had a small cabin that was neat and tidy in a rough, bachelor way.  But their time they mostly spent outdoors.  All that forest round about was theirs and they passed their days hunting, gathering nuts or berries, cutting timber, or other useful activities.  The profit was not great, but it was enough.  When time permitted, they even tried to improve the woods where they could.  Thinning a grove, for instance.

There were dangers.  Just a few months ago, a great bear attacked them when they were walking to a timber site.  They were forced to fight back with axes.  It was desperate and near-deadly.  But there were compensations too, even from the dangers.  They now had a serviceable bear skin in their cabin and pots of bear oil.

One morning-it would have been about June–they woke up to a chill in their air.  The boys were deeply affected by it.  It chilled into their bones like an illness.  The father was less so, but he could still feel almost a presence pushing on him.  When he went outside he felt a direction that it came from.  In that direction he could see frost further off and perhaps even snow beyond.

He told his boys they needed to investigate.

His boys were still struggling with the cold.  After they had all drunk a hot broth and grabbed knives and axes, the youngest boy–he was 9, around there–grabbed the great bearskin and wrapped it around himself.  He looked a sight.  The older boy–15 or 16, likely–smeared himself with the bear fat and grabbed a pot or two more to take.  The father said nothing about these strange actions when he saw how miserable and pale the two boys were.

They set out in the direction of the cold.  The further they went, the colder it got.  They passed through frost and then snow.  The boys were feeling very sick now.  The cold was intense.

They came to a small clearing covered with snow, ice on all the trees and even on the ground, and they saw a being.  The being was skeletal but covered with pale moving ice and it laughed and howled when it saw them.

It declared itself to be the haunt of winter, come to assert its ownership of the land.  It assumed without them saying that they had come to contest its supremacy.  And of course they  had.

“Know your place,” the father said, and they all three advanced on it.  They struck out with their axes, but the haunt was strangely willowy and it swayed back and forth out of their blows.  When one did strike, it seemed to do no harm and almost seized the ax.   It’s own counterstrikes whistled like the winter wind, they were so fast and hard.  “We’ll have to take it down,” the father said, and he grabbed the haunt by the wrist.  But when he did, his hand turned chill and lifeless.  The haunt reared up with great evil delight on its face.  “You think to grapple with me?  I am the cold, I am the chill, I am the motionless death.”  It’s voice cracked and hissed.  But the younger son had trudged behind it and threw his bear robe onto it and then rushed and jumped at the creature.  The boy’s small weight did not knock it over, but it did rock the creature for a bit.  It’s recovery was long enough for the father and the older son to notice that the younger boy was unharmed, with the bear robe between him and the haunt, and long enough for them to desperately jump on also and bear the haunt to the ground underneath the robe.  It thrashed and writhed but was not used to grappling and could not get up.  When he had a good hold, the father told the older boy to light a torch and try the haunt with fire.  The son did.  But when he lifted the bear robe to thrust the lit torch at the haunt, the haunt blew a blast of arctic air that instantly snuffed it out.  Under the robe the haunt now began to have and buck and boast.  “You grow weaker!” it cried gleefully.  “I grow stronger!  You cannot hold for long.”  Then the older boy lit his torch again, this time with bear oil.  He lifted the robe again.  The same idiot arctic blast came again.  The flame did not go out.  It fluttered and bent but burned on.  The boy tossed his remaining pots under the robe along with the torch.

The haunt shreiked and writhed and as the flames burnt, the frost and snow around disappeared.  The younger boy snatched back the robe before it could be more than singed while the father and the older boy hurried to grab whatever stick or branch they could to pile on the fire.  The boys felt well now.  They all three hurried back and forth heaping up more wood, until that haunt had a pyre.  They stayed around all day, adding more wood and watching the fire burn down.  When it was finished, they raked down the ashes and saw a shriveled black remain stretched on the ground like a thin black wire parody of a stick figure of a man.  But as they watched, one small patch thickened ever so slightly and turned from back to gray.  There was a touch of what looked like frost on it.  The father held his hand close.  “Cold,” he muttered.   He and his boys tried hacking at the remains again, but their axes could do nothing.  Need I say that they sharpened the axes as sharp as could be?  They did, but the axes could do nothing.

The father sighed.  “There’s nothing for it,” he said, “we’ll just have to keep a fire going.”  Which is what they did.  Night and day they had a great mound of wood burning down into charcoal over the spot where the haunt of winter lay.  When one batch was done, they would move it out and quickly stack up more racks of wood that they had been gathering the while.  They sold some of the charcoal, as much as they could in their remote parts, but mostly they just moved it out and heaped it where it would do no harm.  Some day, they said, when civilization arrived, they would sell it all.  Their efforts were very hard at first and continued to be hard, though by great effort they managed.  They coppiced much of their woods to have enough to keep the fire going, and over time they discovered their heaps of charcoal, with proper care, turned into rich black earth.

The sons married, a thriving little community grew up.  The community’s forest is rich and productive.  They still use the charcoal for the soil, but they have other uses now too, little craft industries and kilns.

A few have suggested digging down to see if the haunt can really have survived the fire for so long.  But the wiser sort says it is best to leave it alone.

Continue reading at the original source →