January 12th, 1888, in Dewey, Kansas
It happened quickly; more quickly than anyone could have imagined.
For the middle of January, it was warm out. Warm enough that I could leave my heavy coat at home while at school. Our teacher, Miss Harper, told us to go outside and play after our lunch of cheese sandwiches and apples since it was so nice outside. While my classmates played their games, I sat alone with my journal in my lap. I spent our time outside drawing the schoolhouse. I was fascinated by the way the curtains were flowing in the breeze and tried to capture the gentle movements with my pencil.
While studying the flowing curtains, I saw something happen. It was subtle and almost unnoticeable. It was the wind; it switched directions. The new wind brought with it a heart-stopping cold.
The warm air quickly disappeared, replaced by a frigid, bitter coldness. Stunned by the sudden onset of the cold, we all ran inside. We all shuffled into the schoolhouse, chilled by the new wind, and took our seats. Miss Harper closed the crooked door behind us. She moved about the room to close the windows. “Burr!” she exclaimed, “It sure got cold, didn’t it, children?” she said lightly with a smile.
We all agreed in unison.
The wind picked up outside, howling as if there were a dozen hungry wolves just waiting for a chance to pounce.
We settled into our seats for the afternoon lesson. With each passing minute, the freezing wind grew louder and stronger. The room darkened as the sun disappeared behind giant walls of clouds. Even though Miss Harper had lit a fire in the hearth, the wind penetrated the thin wooden walls. It found even the smallest cracks and creeped in unseen, chilling the air.
I wished I had brought my heavy coat.
Outside, the snow began to fall. It wasn’t the gentle blanket that would make for graceful snow angels. It was a fierce and powerful barrier of snow that drowned the landscape, making it disappear as if it never existed.
Miss Harper tried to continue the afternoon’s spelling lesson, but the cold kept creeping in. The letters she wrote in chalk on the blackboard were squiggly and messy as she shivered violently. No one could concentrate on the lesson; it was getting too cold. Something sent a shiver down my spine, and the cold wasn’t to blame.
“I can see my breath!” shouted Jack, a boy my age who sat in front of me.
“I’m so cold, Miss Harper!” said another.
“My fingers are froze!”
“We need a bigger fire!”
Miss Harper’s smiling disposition quickly disappeared. She looked defeated as she set the piece of chalk on her desk. She glanced at the dwindling pile of firewood. I followed her gaze; there was one log left. Fear flickered across her face.
I quickly opened to a new page of my journal and drew her. Instead of the smiling and happy picture of Miss Harper I would normally draw, this creation was something much darker. I captured her fear on the blank page. My fingers--stiff and chilled—complained as I held my pencil to draw. The resulting picture was chaotic with snaky and undefined lines. It seemed fitting.
Panic began to settle in when Miss Harper threw in the last log of firewood.
I tried to focus on my drawing. Suddenly, my concentration was broken by a loud crash and a bone-shattering whoosh of wind. The crooked door had been blown off its hinges and crashed through the room. The thick slab of wood tore through the room. Lucy, the girl who sat next to me, was claimed by it as it smashed into her and threw her to the floor. She was screaming and thrashing underneath it, trying to get free. Miss Harper rushed to her aide, yanking the door off her as the rest of us sat in shock.
She held Lucy in her arms as she cried. There was a cut on her forehead that sent blood down her face. Miss Harper wiped it away with the tail of her dress. Johnny, an older boy, acted quickly and found some nails to hammer the door back to the frame. He wasn’t quick enough. Loads of snow blew in, kissing our skin with needles of chills.
Snow covered the floor and caked our skin and clothes. It was eerily quiet in the classroom as we all struggled with the cold. The small fire crackled in the fireplace and the wind whined outside. My teeth chattered uncontrollably as I shivered in my seat. We all just sat there, frozen and rigid, battling the shudders.
Then there was a crack. The window! The cracks spiderwebbed across the glass. There was a moment of silence before the glass exploded into the classroom. Glass flew, striking several kids across the face. More snow flooded in. Girls screamed as glass cut their eyes and faces. The youngest girl in the class, who sat next to the window, clawed at her eyes. She wailed at the top of her lungs as blood began to seep between her fingers. Miss Harper, still trying to calm Lucy, rushed over to her and did what little she could to comfort the girl. Poor Mary, I thought to myself. I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
Miss Harper tended to her, wiping her face, and picking away shards of glass. And as she did, I opened to a fresh page in my journal. The pencil made marks on the page, but with my hands being so cold, the drawing became a perplexing mass of lines that vaguely resembled a scared little girl.
In the chaos of the window explosion, no one had noticed that with it brought the snow that turned the dwindling fire into nothing except a few puffs of steam. Girls were screaming as snow continued to pile in. Boys were crying as they tried to cover the window with a desk they tore apart.
Miss harper tried to start another fire, using a desk for wood. The sparks wouldn’t ignite. And, in that moment, a gust of wind rammed into the schoolhouse, forcing the crooked door to go flying once again across the room. It slammed against an empty row of desks, narrowly missing me on its journey. Snow blew from every direction inside the schoolhouse. We all massed together in the farthest corner of the room, as far away from the snow as we could manage. Still, the snow reached us. It covered us. It soaked us.
I hugged my journal to my chest, holding onto it for dear life. Tears began to build behind my eyes as we all huddled together, held by Miss Harper’s arms. Some were in stunned silence. Others were sobbing uncontrollably.
“Children!” Miss Harper bellowed over the howl of the wind. “It’s not safe here!” The wind whipped her hair and snowflakes caked her eyelashes. “The General Store is less than a quarter mile down the road. Grab any extra clothes you can. We need to get there! It will be warm there!” None of us moved. I was too scared and too cold to move a muscle.
“Children, please!” Miss Harper begged. “It’s not far.” Her voice was shaky and unsure. She grabbed someone by the hand and dragged them to the door. We blindly followed suit, absentmindedly holding each other’s hands to stay together, not wanting to get left behind. I tucked my journal into the belt of my dress and grabbed the hand nearest to me. We moved towards the storm.
One-by-one, we disappeared into the wind, snow, ice, and cold.
I held onto the hand for dear life. The wind was so strong, I thought I would blow away. I anchored my feet as best I could into the snow and took one step at a time. The wind felt like it was cutting my skin with a thousand little knives. The snow and ice were so thick, I could not see the person in front of me. The wind was so loud; all I could hear was the whooshing as it wrapped itself around me.
My hands were frozen. My feet were so cold, I wished that someone would just hack them off so I wouldn’t have to feel it anymore. Ice formed around my eyes and nose. My lips froze together so I couldn’t scream. We just kept going. There was no sense of direction. Were we getting closer to the store? Or were we getting farther and farther away?
For what seemed like hours, we walked. Surely, we were close by now. When I stepped on hard ground instead of fluffy snow, a rush of happiness washed over me. We made it to the General Store! I opened my eyes expecting to see a door swing open to reveal a warm, roaring fire. What I saw wasn’t snow, nor was it the door stoop to the General Store.
It was ice.
We were standing on frozen water! The only body of water in town was Old Starks Pond. We had been going in the wrong direction the whole time! In a panic, I peeled my hand away from the one I had been holding. I turned and half ran, half stumbled, as fast as I could. I was almost too late; I heard the crack of the ice and the screams of my friends as they splashed into the frigid water. I covered my ears and ran. I couldn’t stand the sound of their screaming and the splashing. In that moment, I was grateful for the sound of the wind.
I forced my legs to keep going. They fought me with every step. I kept going; kept moving my legs. I don’t know how far I went, and I don’t know how long I was out there. My dress had turned to ice. And I wondered if my lungs would turn to ice, too. I finally saw a building. It was close, so close! I barreled through the door and collapsed on the floor. Then everything went dark.
When I woke, I was in dry clothes and perched by a roaring fire. Several of my fingers were gone and my hands were bandaged. My left foot was gone, too.
I looked at them in confusion, trying to understand what happened.
“You got frostbit, girl,” said a deep, gravelly voice. “You’re lucky.”
I only stared at the rugged-looking man as he stepped closer. He set my journal on the table next to me. “Here,” he said. “You asked for this during the night.”
I grabbed it, despite how much it hurt my hands, and flipped through the pages, recognizing each of my drawings; all except the last. It was a drawing of me. I was sitting on the edge of the pond, watching as my friends fell through the ice to their death. “Who drew this?” I asked breathlessly.
Sadness flickered across his wrinkled, hairy face. “You did,” the man said flatly. “When I found you, I asked where you came from. You didn’t say much of anything, but you drew that there picture.” He sighed heavily and sipped something from a tankard. “We found them a couple days later when everything thawed.” He got up and left the room, leaving me staring at the picture. All I could hear were their screams echoing in my mind.
Only the Devil himself could have conjured such a storm, one of pure power and absolute evil. I would have thought that a storm made by the Devil would be one of heat, fires, serpents, and swarms. Evil comes in all forms.
I was eleven years old that day.
I am an old lady now.
I’ve since locked away that journal, although the picture of Old Starks Pond still lingers in my mind as fresh as the day it happened.