Berwick Street was a quiet cul-de-sac. Most of its residents were middle-aged couples or seniors who had owned their houses for years. Lovely old oak trees provided shade in summer, and there was a playground at the end of the street. This winter, it boasted an outdoor skating rink, thanks to Mr. Scott, a recent retiree who was finding it difficult to make the transition from workplace to home.
But something strange was happening on this sleepy little street in this average little town. Something that threatened to leave no survivors.
Sunday Afternoon, 5 pm
Rebecca Anderson, affectionately known as Becca by family and friends, was a pleasant-faced woman, short and a bit plump, with curly grey hair. She was usually quick to smile, but today her expression was one of sadness. She turned on a reading lamp as she sat in her living room. It was February: the shortest, yet longest month of the year. The last rays of the winter sun had already died, and it was only 5 pm. According to the local news channel, there was heavy snow in the forecast.
Becca didn’t understand the depression she’d been experiencing lately. She’d lived in this house on Berwick Street for forty years and had raised three children here with the help of her beloved husband Jack, dead of cancer for five years now. She’d always tried to see the best in people and circumstances. After all, the house was paid for and she had a pension, supplemented by the money she earned from her baking, which was sold at a local shop and was renowned throughout the township. Her oldest daughter Leah, who taught at a university on the west coast, had a delightful and precocious little girl named Charlotte. Jim, the middle child, was an attorney in Ottawa. Elizabeth, the youngest, lived with her partner in a nearby village and worked as a freelance graphic artist.
Becca’s children had purchased a laptop for her two years ago, and she was able to use Facebook and Skype to keep in touch with them.
Becca put aside the Kobo the children had bought her this Christmas because they knew she loved to read. She was starting to get the hang of the device, although she much preferred the feel of a book in her hands.
She headed for the kitchen to begin preparing her supper. Her constant shadow, Mooch the cat, was nowhere to be seen.
He must be sleeping somewhere.
Becca pulled the cutting board from the cupboard and started assembling ingredi-ents for a salad. She searched for the knife she always used to cut vegetables, but it wasn’t in the butcher’s block or the dishwasher.
Strange. I’m only sixty-five. I hope I’m not starting to get forgetful and misplacing things.
She selected another knife and began to slice the lettuce and tomatoes, trying to pinpoint when exactly this depressed feeling had started. Was it the usual letdown when the kids left after being home for the holidays? No, it had started earlier than that. She remembered the moment now. Charlotte had been sitting on her lap, telling her about her best friends at kindergarten when she’d suddenly asked, “Where’d the spirit go, Grandma?”
“What do you mean, Charlotte?”
“The Christmas spirit. There aren’t any lights out on your street, 'cept yours. And where’s the sleigh with Santa and all his presents? I saw it last year. It blew up like a big balloon at night.”
And then Becca had realized the child was right. There were no twinkling lights to see, no inflatables, no wreaths in a neighbourhood that had always prided itself on its elaborate Christmas displays.
The depression had started then, accompanied by an urgent sense of foreboding that all was not right on quiet Berwick Street.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a loud thump outside on the porch. Becca wiped her hands on a dish towel and hurried to the door.
When she opened it, she found a note pinned there with her missing knife. Her hands shaking, she removed the knife and read the note.
You have been marked.
She spotted Mooch under the living room couch. The cat was hissing violently in fright, but there was no one to be seen on the street nor were there footprints in the crusted snow.
Sunday Evening, 6 pm
Mabel Wright, a tall, thin, white-haired woman in her mid-eighties, opened her front door and walked gingerly outside onto the verandah. The sky was moisture-laden with impending snow. She could feel it in her bones. She stamped her cane on the floor of the verandah as if that act alone could stop the storm dead in its tracks.
Because of her limited mobility, the local community centre sent volunteers to visit Mabel twice a week, and she had Meals on Wheels at least three times weekly. The rest she prepared herself.
The young, pretty volunteers who came to her house were at times intimidated by her and at other times amazed at her powers of recall.
“Father always said I had a mind like a steel trap, except for things that don’t bear remembering,” she’d tell them and then proceed to discuss poetry or art or whatever subject struck her fancy. She’d been a school teacher for thirty years before retiring and had loved working with children. She’d been very strict, putting up with no nonsense in the classroom, but her students always respected her. Many of them remembered her with affection and still sent her Christmas cards each year.
Mabel’s own children and her husband had died many years ago, leaving her with an unspoken sorrow. But she had moved on with her life as best she could and believed she still had a few good years ahead of her in spite of her osteoporosis.
Damn snow never ends. I hate it. I hate being afraid of falling. I’ve never been afraid of anything in my life.
But—truth be told—Mabel knew she was just whistling in the dark.
Something had her spooked. She was very afraid, and it had nothing to do with a possible fall on the ice.