Vera drew another red “X” on the calendar. They were one day closer to the arrival of their houseguests.
“Has it been a year already?” asked Bert.
His question, posed in a voice barely above a whisper, trailed into the howl of the blizzard brewing outside the kitchen’s shuttered windows.
They had started talking like children sharing secrets while Vera cooked in preparation and the snow transformed the daylight hours into an early dusk.
She baked breads, savory and sweet, the latter with local walnuts, pumpkin and cranberries; casseroles with potatoes, carrots, and noodles that could be frozen in advance; a ham. She slow-roasted several soups, washed apples and pears, all in preparation for the arrival of their guests.
“This gets worse every year,” griped Bert. “All that we have to do before they get here.”
Vera didn’t answer, only stirred the pot on the stove and cast a glance through narrowed eyes at the winter landscape visible through the gap in the shutters. The dark woods beyond could barely be seen through a filter of white.
“I can’t wait until they leave.”
Vera cooked. Bert carried stacks of fresh towels, extra linens and blankets into the Guest Room. Books and candles followed.
Another red “X” on the calendar tolled the passing of days. The blizzard took a brief interlude, only to return with greater fury.
“Maybe the snow will keep them away,” Bert said.
“It never does. We stick to the plan,” said Vera.
Bert brought an extra flashlight and batteries into the Guest Room.
One final red “X”.
Right before their guests were due to arrive, Bert carried the last of the food Vera had labored over into the Guest Room. Vera lugged two more gallon jugs of clean water past the threshold and then sealed the metal door behind her. While fastening the three locks, she imagined the full-length mirror fixed to the door’s outside, hung there to repel faces from looking and deter hands from testing the knob.
She checked the door again and hurried down the stairs to the cellar safe room where Bert waited, rising panic clear in his eyes.
Knuckles rapped on the house’s front door, their echo audible in the cellar safe room’s strangulating silence. More followed, oaken and heavy. What sounded like multiple fists began to hammer and claw. Glass shattered.
Vera held onto Bert, her eyes shut tightly.
“The annual migration – right on schedule. Who do you think is up there this time?” he asked.
“Shhh,” she hissed against his ear.
Her next breath hitched in her throat. The little food she’d eaten that morning – or it could have been the afternoon; the lack of a cellar window in the Guest Room made it impossible to gauge the exact time – soured in her stomach and took an encore on a clotted hiccup.
Footsteps dragged across the floorboards over their heads. Others shuffled through the part of the house that was the kitchen.
Vera held onto Bert and prayed in silence for the visit to end quickly and for their unwanted guests to leave.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gregory L. Norris lives at Xanadu, his home in New Hampshire's North Country. There, he writes for national magazines, fiction anthologies, novels and the occasional episode for TV and film with his emerald-eyed muse and faithful rescue cat Daisy. Follow his literary adventures at: www.gregorylnorris.blogspot.com.