The Other Side – Chapter 2 – The Storm (Original)
Two years later…two siblings Arnold and Molly go to run an errand for their mum, who sews for an extra few chillings, and asks her children to take her work to her paying customer Mrs Hettle on the mountain…not far from where they live. The weather takes a turn for the worst on route to her and the snow storm comes in two days early and the children find themselves caught in the midst of it! Will they get back home?
Iris stared through the middle pane of the sash window. Her hand covered her mouth in disbelief. Outside a flurry of snowflakes tumbled down. In the field opposite, snow perched on the oak’s branches. It had been icy cold all day, but no-one expected this, not now.
A hand as big as a shovel pressed down on her shoulder. “They’ll be fine.”
Iris gave a deep sigh. “I should never have let them go, Ivor.” She reached up and held his hand in hers.
“The storm is two days early. It’s not your fault, Iris. It wasn’t snowing when they left.” Ivor stated.
She turned to face him.
“I pray to God to keep them safe,” she said, wringing her hands tightly.
“He will. They’ll be back soon.” He slid his arms around his wife’s petite waist, and stooped, kissing her on her cheek.
“I hope so.”
Her hands slipped to the comfort of his arms and he gave her a squeeze of reassurance. They stood together for a few minutes gazing at the snow that now clung to everything in its path.
“I’ll put more wood on the fire to warm the room up for when they get back,” she said.
“Okay, love.” He nodded but didn’t look at her.
Ivor stood staring out of the window. Inwardly he hoped that the snow would not get any worse. He knew how treacherous the paths could be in the cruelest of winters. If he told Iris how he really felt, she would worry herself to death. No need to panic her. She was already on edge.
For twenty minutes the flakes eased, then began to pick up the pace, becoming heavier than before. The wind swirled the snow like sand in a desert storm. Ivor tapped his fingers upon the wooden window ledge.
Iris had not taken her eyes off the weather herself. She watched from the corner of her eye as she added more carrots to the lamb stew. They should be at Mrs. Hettle’s now, maybe even making their way home, she thought. At least that was what she hoped. She prayed silently to God to keep her children safe from harm.
When the weather had turned so harshly a few years ago, their other daughters; Rose age two, and Lily age four, got sick and later died of pneumonia. Their deaths were just a year apart from each other. The family had been beside themselves with grief.
When Molly had been born seven years ago, it felt like they were given a third chance in life. Ivor had called her their miracle baby. He doted on her as much as he did their son. They felt blessed to have their two remaining children. She hoped God would hear and listen to her prayers.
“Iris, I’m going to meet them, before the weather gets any worse.” The tone of his voice was firmer now.
“Okay, but be careful.”
“Stop fretting woman. I’ll be fine. Put three hot bowls of soup ready for us,” he said, giving a wink as he put his boots on. ”We’ll be back soon.”
Iris smiled and watched him as he slipped on his coat and woolen hat. The hinges on the door creaked as it opened and a gust of icy air burst into the room. Seconds later the door banged shut and he’d gone.
Arnold put his arm around Molly’s shoulder and pulled her closer to him. They bent their heads, trying to shield their faces from the icy wind that whistled past them. Molly pulled her collar tighter around her neck. It had been bitterly cold when they left the house, but it seemed much colder now. They had only been gone forty minutes but felt like they’d been walking for two hours. Her feet ached and her face stung with the biting wind. The sky looked as white as paper and she could hardly see the scenery anymore.
“I know me too. We have to get back before the weather gets worse. It will be dark soon.”
“How much further?”
“Not too far, Molly. We’re nearly there. It’s around this bend.”
“We’ll give Mrs. Hettle her sewing, collect mam’s money, then go straight home. Okay?”
”Okay, Arnold,” she said shivering.
He hugged her closer to him and he could feel her body shaking. She should never have come. He would have been quicker on his own, but his sister could be persuasive, with her sea blue eyes and innocent smile. He always gave in to her in the end, but he enjoyed her company, even though she was four years younger than him.
They trudged on until they reached Mrs. Hettle’s house. Arnold knocked on the door hard. He hoped the old dear had her hearing aid in. They stood for a few moments and waited before he rapped harder on the door again. His knuckles felt numb.
“I hope she’s in,” he said. Molly shrugged.
From inside the house, they heard the faint sound of feet shuffling. Molly cupped her hands together and blew inside them.
“Wait a minute,” came a scratchy voice from the other side of the door.
“Okay. It’s Arnold and Molly, Mrs. Hettle.”
“All right, my dears.”
They heard the key slip into the door. It clicked as it turned. The door opened slowly to reveal an old woman, stooped with grey wavy hair. She looked at them and smiled. Her small brown eyes widened at their apple red cheeks and cherry pink noses.
“Come in, come in.” She gestured with her hand.
“Thank you,” said Arnold, stamping his feet outside before he walked into the house. Molly did the same and followed. A blast of warm air greeted them as they entered. They shuddered as it swarmed around them, like bees to a hive.
“What brings you here?”
“We brought your sewing from mam.”
“It could have waited, dear. You shouldn’t have come out in this weather.”
“It wasn’t snowing when we left.”
“Sit by the fire and I’ll get you some soup.”
“Thank you, but we better get back home.”
She looked out the window and understood the young boys’ concern.
“Well at least come in and have a warm. I’ll make you some hot, sweet tea for your journey back.”
“Thank you kindly Mrs. Hettle.”
“You’re welcome, dear boy. Why don’t you both stay with me until things settle?” she said, gazing out of the window at the large flakes of snow.
“Our parents will be worried. We have to get back before dark,” replied Arnold.
Arnold stared outside. The snow pelted down. It reminded him of a pillow fight that he and Molly had one night. There were feathers everywhere. The bedroom had been as white as outside. Mam had given them a row for making such a mess and made them tidy up. It seemed to take forever, probably because they kept throwing the feathers over each other instead of cleaning up, but it had been fun. He smiled to himself, but it didn’t last long. He
could hardly make out the usual scenery outside the window that he’d seen time and time before, on previous visits. It made him nervous.
Mrs. Hettle shuffled off into the kitchen.
“Can’t we stay here?”
“No, Molly. We have to go home,” he said pacing the floor and looking through the window once more.
“Dad could come to get us.”
“If the storm gets worse tonight, he won’t be able to get here,” he replied abruptly, turning on his heel to face her.
“Aww,” she said pouting. “It’s cold. I don’t want to go back out.”
“I don’t either, but we have no choice. I told you to stay home.”
From the kitchen, they heard the whistle of the kettle. A few minutes later Mrs. Hettle appeared in the doorway carrying a dark blue flask.
“Here you are, my dears.” She handed the flask to Arnold. “Now take care, you hear. I wish you would stay.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Hettle, but mum will be worried.”
“All right. Wrap up warm now and go straight home.”
“We will, promise,” said Molly buttoning up her coat, then sliding her hat over her ears.
“Here are a few shillings for your mam and one each for you,” she said pushing the money into Arnold’s gloved hand. He smiled gratefully and opened his mouth to say something, but before he had a chance Mrs. Hettle ushered them gently towards the door. “Take care now. Hurry home, children. Hurry home.”
“We will,” they shouted and waved.
The snow lay thick on the ground as they trudged home. Every now and again Molly could feel droplets of ice slipping into her boots and melting underneath her woolen tights. Her toes were getting colder. Now and again she would get pins and needles in her feet.
“Molly, try and keep up, it will be dark soon,” he said, holding out his arm towards her.
She clasped his hand tightly. “I’m trying, but my feet are going numb.”
“All the more reason for us to get home quicker, then.” He pulled her along behind him and looked up at the sky. It had turned cement grey. There wasn’t a cloud in sight. It didn’t look good. The storm would get worse overnight. They had to get home.
“Want a piggy-back?”
Arnold bent down for his sister to get on his back. She clutched on to his shoulders and jumped, wrapping her legs around his waist. He lifted her up a little bit more so that she rested comfortably on him and they set off once again. Molly tightened her grip around Arnold’s neck, more for warmth than stability.
“Hey, you’ll strangle me in a minute.”
He carried her for the best part of ten minutes but could feel his legs becoming heavier as the snow lay thicker on the ground. His knees began to buckle and his breathing became heavier.
“Molly, you’ll have to get down. Let’s rest a minute and have some hot tea.”
”Aww, okay,” she said jumping down. “Where are we? We didn’t come this way.”
“I know, it’s a short cut home. You’ll never make it otherwise.”
“Yes, I will,” she said defiantly. Her forehead creased as she frowned at him.
“If the wind changes you’ll stay like that,” he laughed.
Molly poked her tongue out at him. He grinned and did the same back.
They rested against one of the oaks. Their gloved hands held the dark blue cup in turn, feeling the warmth seep through the wool on to their flesh beneath.
Arnold kept a close eye on the weather. The sky had turned a shade of gravestone grey in the five minutes that they had been there. Molly wasn’t shivering as much.
Arnold put the flask safely back in his pocket and sucked in the cold air. He breathed out deeply and a small cloud of misty air appeared in front of him.
“You look like a dragon,” Molly laughed.
“Mum will look worse if we don’t get home,” he said, his face serious.
They still had twenty minutes walk in front of them, but it would probably take thirty with Molly with him. At least this way they would be home a little quicker.
“Watch your step from here, okay? Hold my hand.”
Molly reached out gingerly. A flicker of fear glazed her eyes.
“Oh. Maybe we should have gone the other way.”
“We wouldn’t get back before dark, Molly. We’d get lost.”
“But I thought you knew your way?”
“I do, but not when it’s pitch black. It’s hard to judge at night. Don’t worry, we’ll be fine.”
“Yeah, promise. Don’t let go of my hand, you hear?”
“I won’t.” Her grip tightened.
Ivor plunged his hands deeper into his pocket until he could feel the coarse stitching scratch upon his gloves. From the distance, he could see the warm yellow glow of light inside Mrs. Hettle’s front window. He breathed deeply. This winter she had not gone to her sister’s in the town below. She probably didn’t have time. The storm had struck quickly.
The snow had crawled almost up to his knees. The further up the mountain, the worse it got. Hopefully, the kids would still be there with Mrs. Hettle.
He knocked loudly on the door, waiting a couple of minutes before trying again.
“Who is it?”
The lock clicked and the door creaked open. “What brings you here, dear?”
“Arnold and Molly. Are they here?”
“No, they left over twenty minutes ago.”
“Damn.” He bent his head and rubbed his face with both hands.
“I asked them to stay with me, but Arnold insisted they get home before dark.” He nodded sullenly. “Thank you, Mrs. Hettle. Well, I’ve not passed them on the way.”
“You haven’t?” Mrs. Hettle interrupted, looking startled. ”There’s only one another way to get back!”
”Yes,” he said, nodding his head. “I’ll try and catch them up,” he said, his tone laced with panic. “Thank you Mrs. Hettle.”
“Be careful Ivor!”
They couldn’t be too far away. Could they? He had to get to them and quick. He pushed himself onwards, struggling through the thickness of soft flakes that had matted together. His legs were heavy the cold penetrated through the soles of his boots. He panted and white clouds of air escaped from his mouth and drifted upwards. He stopped to get his breath back and held his side. It had been years since he’d had a stitch this bad, but he had to push on.
A fog had drifted down and he squinted, trying to make out the shapes in the distance. There didn’t seem to be any movement, but he couldn’t be certain.
“Arnold. Molly,” he shouted then waited for a reply. There came no answer. He called again, louder this time, but still no reply. He continued his search, calling their names every few steps, sinking deeper into the crisp snow.
“Arnold, are we nearly home?”
“Almost. Fifteen minutes and we’ll be there.”
“I thought you said this way is quicker?”
“It is, Molly.”
”It’s taking forever.”
The climb was exhausting. Arnold wished Molly had stayed at home with their mam. He would have been quicker on his own.
Through the flurry of snowflakes, he could just make out the scenery. The oak stood like a dark silhouette on top of the mountain. Its branches like witches fingers – crooked and claw-like, below it lay the lake, as silent as death itself, frozen from the relentless cold. They weren’t allowed here because of what had happened.