Chapter 5: From North, South, East & West
Samantha’s head lurches forward and her eyes open. The taste of sleep remains in her mouth while she yawns and blinks. She hears people fussing in the kitchen, and tries to listen in.
“It was just a dream,” Tom says.
“I know what I saw,” Someone yells back. “You were there, you can’t backtrack now, you were there!”
“Is that Maggie or Hanna?” Samantha asks no one. She yawns and gets up from the couch to join them.
“Mom!” Hanna bursts with excitement. “Did Dad tell you what happened to him?”
“Ur…why are you still awake?” Samantha asks, rubbing her eyes. Her eyes scan over to the stove clock; it is almost midnight.
“Dad found something — CRAZY — in the woods,” Hanna says, “Did he tell you?”
Tom feels sheepish again. He should have known that Hanna would tell everyone. She was always searching for collaboration in her theories and ideas. No secret was safe with her. He and Samantha look at each other. It is rare for them to have not discussed something before the kids know.
“Is this why you came home Saturday?” Samantha looks right at her husband, as if to demand the truth. “You said you missed me.”
“I did miss you. That’s the truth, I missed you,” Tom replies. “But there’s more.”
Tom tells Samantha everything — starting with the great horned bird and the small round screech owl that led him to a part of the woods he’s never seen before, where the trees were old and thick, where there was a clearing with a old red door.
“No building, just a door?” She asks.
“It was like the owls were begging me to open it,” he continues. Samantha sits at the kitchen table listening with the same kind of patience that made him fall in love with her decades ago. She’s always been a good listener. Tom pauses and feels dishonest. Why didn’t I tell her weeks ago? In this moment, Tom vows never to lie to her again. When he gets to the part about the church service, Samantha’s eyes fill with water; she obviously remembers that night too, the green dresses for her daughters, the arguments.
“That was before Josh was born,” Samantha says, quietly. “I was pregnant with him that Christmas.”
Tom had forgotten. He knew the memory was before his son, but he had forgotten that Samantha was pregnant.
Hanna can’t wait any longer, so she adds, “Mom, the night he walked through that door, into that old memory, I was dreaming the same thing, and somehow, I saw him in my dream. Like we were all there, just like normal, but then he walked in and I saw him.”
“You saw him?”
“In my dream.”
Samantha looks confused and worried, so Tom finishes the story. He tells her about the hundreds of birds, birds that shouldn’t be in the woods in the middle of winter, and how the door wouldn’t open.
“I tried everything. Nothing worked. And I was sitting there thinking about that night before Christmas, and I just missed you, Samantha. So I came home that afternoon.”
Samantha’s mind replays all the details, and she decides that she believes every word of the story.
“Okay. I believe you. Something happened back there. I don’t know what, but something happened. We need to figure out why the door wouldn’t open the second time. Because those birds wouldn’t lead you back there if it was nothing.”
Tom’s heart nearly bursts. For weeks he thought this was all in his head, but to be talking about it with the women he loved most made him so happy. Meanwhile, questions and ideas are flying from Hanna and Samantha.
“Maybe the birds didn’t know you wouldn’t be able to open it.”
“Why wouldn’t the door open the second time?”
“How did you get back to your campsite?”
“Why have we never seen this part of the forest before?”
“Why did the birds care?”
“Do you think they needed you to open it?”
“You don’t think they’re in trouble are they?”
It reminds Tom of playing clue with the family years ago; they would all try to figure it out together. Just then, Maggie walks into the kitchen. She is wearing slippers and navy polkadot flannel pajamas. Her little pregnant belly looks perfectly round. She has a sleeping mask pulled up on her forehead so she can see. They all stop talking and watch her. Without even looking at them or acknowledging them, Maggie gets a glass from the cabinet next to Hanna, fills it with water, and starts walking back out of the kitchen. She’s halfway up the stairs when Hanna yells.
“Maggie! Get back here.”
“Family meeting, Maggie!” Tom chirps in, laughing. He loves to call family meetings.
“Be quiet. It’s nighttime. It’s dark outside for a reason!” Maggie yells back. “Go to bed!”
“It’s dark outside for a reason.” Tom repeats what Maggie yelled. He thinks back on the morning the door wouldn’t open. I had to hike so far to get there the second time, I set my lantern down because it had become daylight outside.
“It’s only active at night!” Hanna is already ahead of Tom. “We have to go back, now, tonight,” Hanna jumps off the counter, runs to closet and starts putting on her boots.
“I’m coming too!” Samantha nearly shouts.
“What about Maggie and Pete?” Tom asks.
“Too dangerous. She’s pregnant,” Hanna says with a hint of resentment.
“Shouldn’t we tell them where we are going?” Samantha asks.
“Leave a note, I’ll start packing the truck.” Tom is so excited. He can still remember the bright light and burst of warmth when he opened the red door, like his skin touched electricity in the air, and he wonders where it might lead them this time.
The clock in Tom’s truck glows green. It’s quarter after midnight. The road south of their home is covered in drift snow. Tom drops the truck into 4x4 and accelerates.
“If we hike in from the north we should get there faster,” Tom says, with fake confidence.
It’s so dark outside and the forest is so large, he just hopes that the owls will find them and lead them like last time. Tom parks on the side of the road and grabs his rifle and his lantern, now cracked, but still serviceable.
“That old thing!” Hanna laughs.
She and Samantha turn on headlamps and the three of them plunge into the forest due west. There’s no trail here, just deep snow and thick trees. Tom hopes that if they head straight towards Lake Michigan, they’ll hit the main trail in a few minutes. The air is cold in their lungs. Their pace is quick.
“Whoa now. What is that?” Tom stops, listens intently and holds his arm out in a fatherly gesture of protection.
Something large is moving up ahead in the woods. It’s heading towards them fast. Tom sets his lantern down and quickly removes his rifle from his shoulder. Another louder and closer noise crashes behind them. A low-pitched horn sounds from another direction. Samantha and Hanna both scream. They are surrounded.