To Hell and Back
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care in hope that Saint Nicholas soon would be there...
But who wasn't there, was father. He was working late, again.
It was a chilly Christmas Eve in Salem, Massachusetts at the Burrows home that year. 1879 had been a good year. Little Amos had overcome his bout with cholera, their friends in nearby Boston had been able to rebuild their home finally after the Great Fire of '72, and the rest of the family was happy and healthy. Well as happy as they could be with father still as busy and absent-minded as ever.
He was always busy, ever since he took a position at the library in town. "How many people even knew how to read?" the children had wondered. They always asked if they could come visit him, but father had always said that there were a great amount of learned men who were busy at his establishment and that it was no place for children to be.
Mother didn't know much either. She didn't understand why he needed to be gone so much but the modest wage he earned was enough to bring them from the dregs of the slums of south Boston's tenement district to a nice neighborhood on the outside of Salem.
Now this was a town in stark contrast to Boston proper. Not even a full day's ride northeast of the slums they had been in was this paradise of clean streets, no crime lords or street gangs, and even a proper school for all the children in town. Everyone's father, or sometimes their mother, seemed to be very busy with their chosen profession. Other children in town had parents will similar stories about their mother or father as the Burrows' family had. But the children in town were happy, so far away from war that raged between the states. Far from the Indian and Rail wars of the west. Far from anything…interesting.
Oddly though, a few days before, father had come home hurt from work. How a librarian could get injured in such a way puzzled the entire family. He said there had been an accident and a bookshelf had fallen on him. Mother tried to take a look, but he insisted he was fine. Every night since, father had fallen asleep each night in his study. Some nights they heard him groan in pain but father's study was off-limits, even to mother.
So there the family was on that crisp and clear night. Father's sister, Anna, who had stayed with them now for some time managed to get home just in time for dinner. "Oh it's so chilly out there" she exclaimed. "The moon is so full and bright, dancing across the snow, it all seems to shimmer." She was young and still unmarried. After their parent's passed after a fatal crash into the river she had come to live with them. Pneumonia had taken them together, in less than a week. So since then, being so young and unattached to a man yet, she lived with her brother. A young woman in her 20's just didn't live alone. It wouldn't be proper.
Even Uncle Tobias, father's older brother, had made the trip this year. He was an elderly man, in his 60's, who walked with a cane but it was all for show. He liked the look of a gentleman so he donned his derby, fine suit and walking stick with pride. He had been an engineer of some sorts for a factory so he was still quite fit for his age. His cane had been a gift from owners upon his retirement a year or so ago. A silver tipped handle to match his silver hair was the joke. He bit his tongue at the gesture, wanting to whack them with it, but having been a lifelong bachelor he could now travel and live out his days as the gentleman.
The family wanted to wait for father till they ate, but he insisted he was busy, not hungry, but would join them for carols before bed. So like so many other times, they enjoyed the festivities without him. They sang, they laughed, and they played games. When it came time for carols, mother went to get father. She returned without him and a sad look on her face.
"The poor dear, he must have fallen asleep. I can hear him snoring through the door. It sounds like the big, bad wolf in there with all the huffing and puffing," she said. So they began without him. Through the classics, the children's favorites, and then the family always ended carols with "Silent Night" since Grandpa Young, mother's father, had been the one to transcribe it to English 20 years ago.
The family began the first verse, "Silent night, Holy night. All is calm..." when the peaceful serenity of that moment was shattered by a bloodthirsty howl coming from father's study. Anna screamed and looked as though she might faint. Little Amos stood frozen. Uncle Tobias stood at the ready in response. Mother, cautiously, crept toward the door. "Dear, are you alright?" she asked, her voice trembling.
Time stopped. The door shattered open. Shards of it flew into mother, knocking her backwards, clearly injured. In the doorway to father's study stood an atrocious sight, a mix of animal and man, what the Epitaph called a "Werewolf." The beast dove into the living room and pounced right in front of the family who stood there dumbfounded. It let out another great howl. Little Amos still frozen in terror was dashed to side by Uncle Tobias as the monster took a swing at him. Anna ran about the room in fear.
Now either the beast was already incapacitated in some way or the family was just too fast for it because it just kept howling and tossing furniture as if it were play things around the room. The tempest in their home had caused the candles to get knocked over and some furniture to land in the fireplace so the home was now ablaze as well.
The beast looked frantic, but almost sad. It tried to dive for the window but stumbled over the sofa on its way. Exhausted and infuriated, Uncle Tobias brought his cane across the monster's face and it growled in agony. Another blow to the chest caused another moan. Then, when it should have been able to fight back it paused. Terrified, Amos peaked from his hiding place in the corner at the devil and thought he saw a tear in its eye. It then let out a great howl, louder than its first one, as Tobias drove his cane pommel through its heart.
Staggering back, in shock, he fell to the floor. No one knew what to do next. Amos ran to mother who lay still on the floor, pierced by a shard of wood. "My baby, are you alright?" she said coming to.
"I'm fine mama," Amos replied. She leaned up to hold him. That's when she saw the bite on his arm.
"Amos, honey, did that thing bite you?"
"Yeah, hurts something fierce. Felt like he could have torn it clean off but then it pulled itself off when I started crying from the pain," he said.
Everyone staggered to their feet and crept slowly to where the beast lay. But instead of some foul creature sprawled out on their floor, it was father. He was lying there, motionless, with Tobias' cane still through his heart.