Title – The Winter People
Author – Jennifer McMahon
Genre – Horror
Story Summary –
In the early 1900s, in West Hall, Vermont, the daughter of Sara Harrison Shea goes missing and then is found; dead. Soon afterward Sara herself dies a horrible death and thereafter is said to walk the nights in the small town.
“…He took me to see a lady with tangled hair who lives inside an old hollow tree. She’s been dead a long time. She’s one of the winter people.”
I feel Mama stiffen. “Winter people?”
“That’s what I call them,” I say, turning to face her. The people who are stuck between here and there, waiting. It reminds me of winter, how everything is all pale and cold and full of nothing, and all you can do is wait for spring…”
In her grief, Sara has unleashed a great evil upon West Hall and in her desire to hold her daughter once again, has spoken the words taught to her long ago by her forgotten Aunt. Words that call back the dead. Words that will awaken the sleeper.
“…Then he heard it again. The scratching. Claws against wood.
It was coming from inside the closet.
“Sara,” he said, standing on shaking legs, blood pounding through his head, making a roaring sound in his ears. The room seemed to shift around him, growing longer. The distance between himself and Sara felt impossibly far. The moonlight hit the closet door. He could see it move slightly, the knob slowly turning.
“Move away from there!” he cried.
But his wife sat still, eyes fixed on the door.
“Its our Gertie,” she said calmly. “She’s come back to us…”
Modern day and young Ruthie Washburne is going mad in the small town of West Hall. Trapped with her mother and younger sister in a house in the woods, until one day, her mother disappears and young Ruthie and her sister are left alone.
Slowly Ruthie unravels the history of her home and the legend of Sara Shea. Her death and re-birth and the terrible secret she kept. The truth that so many are searching for and so many more are going missing for.
The bringing back of the dead. The awakening of the sleepers. The Winter People.
“…Oh what power we dead have over the living!
I paid a visit to Lucius – I couldn’t help myself. I let myself into his house just before dawn, stood by the side of his bed, and gently called his name until he awoke. And when I saw how frightened he was, I told him I’d come back from the dead. “You think I was mad when I was living? You know nothing of the madness of the dead. There is no bed to bind me now, Doctor,” I whispered harshly in his ear…”
Ruthie must find a way to save herself and her sister from the legacy of Sara Harrison Shea and West Hall.
This tale goes beyond the confines of a ghost story. Nor is it a zombie dead story either. It is a tale of the clash of two cultures. Two sets of belief in the God that is and the Gods that were. Of the powers of the Pagan faith that is wished for when the Christian God fails the grieving.
For many the comparisons to Stephen King’s Pet Semetary will be fast and harsh. But McMahon takes the premise of bringing back your loved ones and the consequences of using such power in a totally different direction. Sara’s dedication to her daughter Gertie and pain at the truth of her death are the fabric of this tale. It is Sara’s story that drives the actions of all the other characters that follow. Until finally Ruthie and the decisions she must make for herself and her family bring the story to its conclusion.
This is a good horror story that moves along slowly, letting the truths it holds creep up on you until you have to know what is coming next. Told in various time periods, it is seamless in prose and builds with a palpable tension until the final scenes with all trapped in the darkness of a cave where the sleeper lives.
A very good read.
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