The laundry had been left on its line. Frowning at her absent-mindedness to the point of scaring herself, she moved toward the window. A more aggressive wind raced, howling its way into the chimney well. Fearing the loss of their linen, Meredith sought out a shawl and exited the house to retrieve the forgotten linen.
Much to her confusion, the yard was not nearly as cold as the house had been. Strong as the gusts were blowing, the wind was more humid than anything else. The absence of cold was noticeable. As she struggled to pluck and contain the flapping sheets from the line, one thing did catch Meredith particularly off guard: the scent of the wind.
Given the time of year, the surrounding grounds always smelled of bittersweet birch bark, apples and the pungent perfume of decaying leaves. Yet as she put the last of the load into a basket, her nose articulated the odor. Roses. The fall air whipping about could have been mistaken as spring to a blind man with how true it was to the floral scent. Roses were uncommon for this time of year, even for Terrytowne in general. Meredith and William Tawney had never grown them either, nor did any grow wild near the property. Her curiosity in pinpointing the odor suddenly made Meredith feel foreign in her own yard. Despite being merely feet from her porch, the house felt much farther away.
Even though the evening had not dropped its temperature, she pulled her shawl tighter, gathered her bundle and headed in.
The wind had yet to let up as the night approached seven. Her husband still gone, Meredith busied herself folding the recently collected laundry. The house was still cold despite the lamps and the efforts of the recently stoked fire. She placed another log on the stack, the flames gratefully lapping at its mass.
In the diminishing light, Meredith sat without inhibition of her evident concern as to where William could be. As a wife, her behavior might have been considered dramatic — waiting at a window for her husbands return— though such lateness meant one of a few possibilities, none of them good. Hiking a chair to face the window more directly in the parlor, she sat by the curtained window.
A large cedar, the oldest on their property, slightly obscured her vision line of the entire path leading to the homestead. Its fallen leaves encircled the base in a massive expanse that not even the wind could entirely move. As she watched the road, the leaves beneath the tree seemed to rise and fall with great animation, often reverting her attention from the road to the tree. At first, she was annoyed by the flurried distraction. It was not until the leaves hung in the air, suspended, that Meredith gave her full attention.
Everywhere but beneath the tree branches the wind coursed and raked the land. Yet the encompassing leaves remained as stoic as the cedar itself, unaffected by the weather. As if caught in the same spell, Meredith held her breath in disbelief. A quiet began to settle around her. The wind was inexplicably easing, drawing away to haunt another grove. Still hanging, the leaves started to rotate on an invisible track. At once in cadence, they eventually broke rank, lifting up and down. The display was too organized to accuse the wind of tricks, even if it had not calmed to the point of absence.
A short gasp of smoke plumed at the cedar base. Its appearance confused Meredith, as no fires were lit anywhere near the tree. Coming and going, it rose to meet the leaves one by one. The smoke gained substance. No longer a shift of the air or an ill placed ember catching, the smoke unfolded from the soil. It expanded. A white form appearing to consist of milk and white silk strands mimicked the pattern of the leaves. The shape, still rooted at its base or origin, followed their movements, rising and falling.
Without cue, others birthed anew around the cedar. Edging off of her chair and onto the window sill, Meredith inhaled clipped breaths, remaining as still as possible. Pressing gently upon the window, she noticed how cold the house had become. Her fingertips froze as they pressed the window. Had she bothered to exhale, Meredith’s breath would have fogged the glass. The forms had begun to shift.
It was not discernable that they had legs or hands, but certainly Meredith could see their arms forming a joined ring about the cedar. Methodically the vapors moved about the base, almost celebrating. Their features grew more established as they moved. Suggestions of arms, torsos and heads developed in each writhing figure.
A sound rose with them as well. It mimicked the gush of the wind but steadily grew more shrill. A rhythmic chattering filled the yard, sharp like a dying rabbit’s knell. The sound found its way into the house, chancing to go where warmth would not. Meredith watched as they danced, their cacophony closing in, round and around in the all but absent light.