Chapter 1 - Susie / 2006
Susie Fletcher, the lead librarian at Keller Library, was reading a story to children between the ages of six and nine. She had worked here for many years and intentionally found a job across from the part of town she used to live in. Over there, behind the fence, there were secrets kept close by those who still remember. These secrets often followed her home and slithered through her dreams. The pure heartache and terror this town had lived through was one history would never tell.
Reading children’s books was her favorite part of the job, and she was reading one she treasured, Charlotte’s Web. As she read through the part about the strong storm and the father grabbing his gun to shoot the pig, the lights went out like someone cut a wire. The twelve children on the floor in front of her screeched. Some rose to their knees ready to flee, others found someone else to hold onto, and a few called out for their mommy. There was a spark of ancient instinct in Susie that made her heart skip a beat. She could only see the darkness and feel the cold air seep through the walls.
Outside thunder rumbled and a ball of lightning shot across the sky. Icicles dripped down the windows. For a moment the ice captured the light from snow thunder and the icicles glowed. It reminded her of Mary’s eyes in the end when there was nothing left of her but hunger.
Susie quickly came back to the moment at hand and called, “Children, children, I’m right here.” Some calmed at hearing her voice, other’s cries hushed, and Susie’s bleeding ears thanked her. “Everyone, find someone to hold on to. In a moment the lights will come back on.”
Approximately three and a half minutes later the warm lamps turned on and it threw a soft glow across the red faces of the children. The palpable panic in the room died down and one child was brave enough to say, “Mrs. Fletcher, tell us a scary story.”
“Oh, I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”
Susie looked around at the rest of the children and saw them suspended in anticipation. Some looked unsure, but most were curious. “Oh, alright.” Then she lowered her voice to a whisper. “But this tall tale stays between us, you hear? When you go home tonight you can’t tell this story to your parents. It’ll be our little secret.”
The children’s eyes widened, and she didn’t look away until she saw them all nod.
Susie paused for quite a while to collect her thoughts. Her old mind had to dig deep for these memories. How to tell this story to children? “During winter 1966, in this very town, a frigid wind blew in the most dangerous storm. No one could have foreseen what was to befall this town. Deadwood South Dakota froze over, ice froze doors shut, animals died - goats, horses, cows, beloved pets because the owners couldn’t care for them.”
As Susie Fletcher told the tall tale to the room of hushed children, the lights flickered again, and she glanced at the sleet pelting the windows. The sound reminded her of the time Mary trapped Susie in the local shop as she tapped her elongated nails on the front door. A little girl whimpered and scooched closer to her friend.
“Crops froze over. Everyone was locked in from the evil entering the town. You would think this was a good thing...but humans are stubborn, and life must go on even with evil singing to them to come out if they dare. And the people did finally escape the first storm. There was a spark of joy knowing that most of the town had survived one of the worst blizzards. But in the darkest dampest places the evil blended in and stuck around. Waiting…. joy and relief were brief…” Susie paused often. Moments of silence would follow as she found the right words in her head.
“The second storm hit half a week later out of nowhere. The weathermen at the time kept seeing the changes. First it was cold rain, then it was predicted some snow. But the town put all their trust in these men and didn’t prepare for the next blizzard. There was a girl in this town. Her name was,” Susie paused to come up with a name, “...Sylvie, and the cold turned her heart to ice.”
“Like in the fairy tale The Snow Queen?” a child piped up, this guess made Susie smile in sadness. Oh, how she wished this tale had a happy ending.
“Yes, it was the same idea. But this story takes a darker turn.” At the warning some children moved in closer still, mostly the older ones, wanting to catch every hitch in Susie’s breath as she told the story. The children in the back plugged their ears or looked to the door for a parent not yet here.
“Sylvie’s whole body became cold, unfeeling, so deep it reached to the marrow of her bones. The chill was eating away at the things that made her human. Then she fell under a spell of the winter’s kiss. The time came when she hunted for the sustenance she truly craved.”
“Then what happened?”
A dull rapping sound came from the doorway and Susie looked up to see Mrs. Hicks’ dark look. It was only directed at Susie and hidden well behind her sunglasses.
“Looks like parents are starting to arrive.”
Many children exhaled and some groaned in disappointment. Susie leaned in before they could all collect their things and leave. Looking every single kid in the eyes she said, “This stays between us. If I hear this tale on anyone else’s lips there will be no more story time from Ms. Fletcher.”
Shock lit up many faces. Susie was their favorite librarian because she used different voices, raised and lowered her voice and even brought in props for the children to get involved.
They all nodded, and Susie finally deliberately looked into Mrs. Hicks’ concealed eyes. “Abigail,” Susie addressed her purposefully by her first name.
The corners of her lips turned down and ugly wrinkles she tried to smooth out with creams textured her face. “You may call me Mrs. Hicks now.”
“Yes, of course Abigail.” Susie refused. Who knows what Abigail’s next last name would be two years from now. It’s already changed three other times because she got bored with the current perfectly imperfect man.
Abigail Hicks was a forty-four-year-old nosy, opinionated woman who thought she knew best for everyone. She tried to get her hands into everything. The policies of the school her child attended, how her husband dressed, where people must sit at an eleven-year-old’s birthday party. The community counsel has tried hard to push her out but each year she convinced people to get her closer to the president’s position. The town talked about her but it’s like she fed off the gossip. She wore too much pink, it was in her clothes and in her make-up, and if she wasn’t in a pantsuit for work, she was in a dress.
Susie’s response caused Abigail Hicks’ chin to tuck into her chest showing slight annoyance. But it was quickly dashed for the matter at hand she really wanted to voice.
Abigail huffed, “I hope you aren’t telling lies about this town.”
Susie continued her firm eye contact and blankly stated, “Only the truth.”
Abigail glanced to make sure her son was plugged into his portable CD player, headphones over his ears. Yet she still placed her hands over his ears. Susie noticed he didn’t even pull away. It must be such a normal occurrence to be sheltered from his mother’s words. “How can this town move on from the past if you keep bringing back what may have happened in the Black Hills?”
“Oh, it happened, don’t you doubt that, Abigail. These secrets are too dark for people to believe so we choose to tell them only in warning and in pieces. No one will know the whole truth, not even you.”
Abigail Hicks straightened her shoulders as if offended and pulled her son along with her. “I don’t think we’ll be coming back for story time again Josh.”
Josh heard this over his music and as Susie waved goodbye to other children she heard, “But I like Mrs. Fletcher’s stories. They’re always new.”
“Susie Fletcher is a liar, and we don’t associate with those kinds of people.”
Two weeks later, Josh missed one story time session and he was back in front listening intently once again.