The fire hisses, then snaps, and the dog looks up from his place on the hearth. His hackles rise; a low growl escapes him. Aunt looks up from her knitting. A hush falls on the room — that curious feeling of something-about-to-happen seizes us. As for my cousins, the eldest holds her needle in midair; the middle one falls silent, taking her hands away from the loom and setting them in her lap. The twins are silent, for once.
And me? Somewhere, deep within me, my heart pounds, distant as an echo, as if it is already far away, in another place and another time.
There’s a story I know about a white bear who came and took the youngest daughter away with him, promising the family everything they wanted and more, if the father would only let him take her. In the story, the family was sitting in their house when something passed by outside the window. Hands to their hearts, they all gasped. Pressed up against the window was the face of a bear — a white bear — his wet nose smearing the glass, his eyes searching the room. As he moved past, it was as if a splotch of sunlight momentarily penetrated the gloom.
That is that story. In my story I am sitting in the house with my aunt and uncle and cousins when something passes by outside the window. In the twilight it is just a dark shape. The room dims as the shadow goes by, and even after it passes, the darkness lingers, as if the sun has gone for good.
Aunt sets her knitting in her lap. She tries not to smile, holding her lips firm, but the smile makes its way to her forehead, and her eyebrows twitch with satisfaction.
My stomach works its way into a knot; my breath catches halfway down my throat.
A sharp knock on the door makes us all jump. Aunt gets up, smooths her skirt, and crosses to open it. My cousins glance at me, then away when I return their look. Greta isn’t here. She must be hiding, which is just as well.
From “West of the Moon,” © 2014 Margi Preus, published by Amulet, a division of Abrams. Reprinted with permission.