Winter is a rotten time to move and no less rotten when one is young, restless and wishing that the discomfort of uprooting was over already. Such was the lot of a certain young man named Zach who had just settled into life in a tiny, remote and extremely boring town in the middle of Courtland County. It was already difficult enough to have to leave everything he knew behind but Zach was particularly unimpressed that this move should come right before the start of the Christmas season. Instead of his mom setting up the tree on December first, he got the pleasure of packing up everything he owned. Instead of getting his list of wants together, he got to spend several cramped hours of the first weekend of December in their new small car, heading towards someplace that he couldn’t remember the name of. It didn’t matter because it wasn’t even on any decent sized map and no one would ever find it anyway. Zach had already known that this Christmas was going to suck but it was worse now that he was here and stuck in the reality of this tiny nowhere place. In the dead of night, however, Zach was free to be honest with himself. Sure he hated this new place but he already knew that wherever they ended up was going to suck. It wouldn’t matter where he went because his mother wouldn’t be there.
On days when he was being fair, he knew that his father was trying his best to do what he could. It didn’t help that his parents had been divorced for about six years before his mother died and his father had been sort of living the bachelor life on his own. He and Zach didn’t fight and they saw each other fairly regularly but it was different living with him again. It was harder on both of them initially and soon, it was evident that his father wasn’t able to make ends meet on just the one income with a teenager in his care too. Zach had been quiet on the whole but secretly he wondered why his father wasn’t able to take care of him like his mother always had. She didn’t have the greatest job. She didn’t miss bill payments. She didn’t constantly talk about the financial strain that she was under. In the years to come, Zach would eventually come to realize that all these things had always been a reality but his mother had taken that secret to her grave. It was a secret that his father was ill prepared to deal with and this had led to him finding a new line of work in a tiny town he’d never heard of before. Nothing would make him happier than to rewind about nine months before this and beg his mom to just stay home from work that day. Anything that might have kept her off the highway and away from the car would have done the trick. All this would have been prevented. Since there was no way to do that, he and his father were stuck finding out the wonders of Courtland County. Little did he know that the first one had already found him.
The house that they had moved into was better than the small apartment that Zach had been sharing with his father since his mother’s death but it was still cold, drafty and very very old. The realtor had told his father that this house was built in the 1920s and even though it did have modern updates, a lot of the original aspects of the house remained there. What they also knew upon moving in was that no one had lived in the house for the better part of six years. There was dust everywhere and it took nearly a week of cleaning everything up to even be able to comfortably move into it. Zach was resentful of the fact that he wasn’t able to do anything else until then but his father had decided to hold his belongings hostage in a storage shed until the house was ready. They were forced to clean everything, including the attic. There, Zach found an old box and on top of it was an equally old book. With little to do those first few nights in his sleeping bag,he took the book down with him and tried to read it. He was disappointed to find that it was something like a book of old fairytales or something. With no TV available to them, his father had tried to get a look at the book as well, reading him the tale of The Old Hag while they ate their takeout pizza on the floor again. Zach wasn’t exactly interested in the book but he was bothered that his father didn’t finish the story and was even more annoyed that the pages of it were missing so he couldn’t even finish it on his own.
Swept up in his misery over the move and the deepening unhappiness of the coming Christmas that would be a first spent entirely with his father and entirely without his mother, Zach allowed himself to take out his misery on the dust and the sheets left over in the attic. There wasn’t much up there but whoever had left it had been gone for so long that the white sheets looked grey and drab and depressing. As he continued late in the day, Zach would fling off the sheets in anger, kicking up thick clouds of dust in the dim light. It was as if he were trying to rid himself of what felt like a world of ghosts that all seemed to be there out of spite. Each sheet he tore off revealed nothing but another section of floor that had been covered to keep it from getting dirty or a small box filled with nothing or some relic that was once a chair or a stool or something. By dusk, Zach was getting tired and more grumpy than he was comfortable with. He was about togo down to the room that he had claimed as his own to sit with his sleeping bag when he spotted something strange by the attic window. A glint of light, soft but still visible, that seemed to be shimmering there. Allowing himself to be distracted from his melancholy for just a second, he made his way closer to where the light was fluttering.
As he approached, the image of the little town unfolded the closer that he got to the window. He looked at the bruise colored sky and thought of how different it looked back home where he wanted to be. He let himself look over the streets below and beyond the block where they lived. Just little boxes buried in the snow with their windows dark and their curtains drawn already even though it wasn’t even full dark yet. How weird was it to be in this place? There wasn’t a single house that had Christmas lights up. Not one! Even the buildings in town and the shops didn’t have any lights up. He saw trees decorated here and there but nothing otherwise.
Zach’s attention was caught by a bright light coming on below the window. He squinted through the dusty window pane in time to see the headlights of his father’s small car flash and bob as he backed out of the driveway. Zach rolled his eyes, knowing that his dad would be gone for at least an hour. It was hard to tell if he was just getting yet another thing that they needed to fix this nightmare of a house or if he’d forgotten something to be able to cook a full meal with but it all meant the same thing. They lived close enough to town that he could still walk to different places if the weather was good but they were just faraway enough that everything was inconvenient when the weather was bad. The houses out here were spaced wider apart, the realtor had said that this was a hold over from the days when they had quite a few people who had been very rich and had larger plots of land. They were told that at one point, these houses would have been removed from town altogether but since the boundaries had grown and more people had moved here, they were annexed. All this might have sounded impressive to his father but it also meant that the nearest grocery store was at least a fifteen minute drive and if he was looking to get anywhere else, it was going to take even longer. Ultimately it meant that Zach was stuck in the house by himself forfar longer than he wanted to be.
“I want to go home,” he said to his reflection in the window glass.
Suddenly Zach felt a cold draft on his back and heard a small groan in the boards of the attic floor behind him. He shot around to see that there was nothing there. He looked around and saw nothing but dust still settling on the stale air of the empty attic. He scolded himself for getting scared but a part of him was getting too creeped out to be here alone now. He looked at the pile of white sheets that he’d tossed aside in the corner and wondered, idly, if maybe he had just gotten something mad at him for crumbling its veil and treating it like trash. He looked back and saw that the clouds were turning a darker purple and knew that if he kept thinking like this, that hour wait for his father was going to get even longer if he was scared.
Zach was about to leave when he noticed the glinting light that had drawn him here in the first place. He squinted in the gloom but it was clear that he was looking at something silver. A long strand of thread? No, it was a strand of hair. A very long strand of silver hair that was caught in the crevice between the window pane and the frame. Zach didn’t know why he would have seen this. He shivered and turned away, leaving the banal discovery behind him. As he vowed to just find something to eat and reassured himself that he was just hungry and tired, he still closed the door behind him.