Chances are the winter and the so named “Polar Vortexes” have been getting many of us down this season. Frigid temperatures, low gray skies, bleak filtered sunlight; there is NOTHING fun about this, the most, disgusting time of year. I have always detested the month of February. It is utterly worthless in my book. Completely void of purpose, this month making up part of Cassiopeia’s curse, must have something to offer, but what?
Many moons ago, before the advent of the telephone, television and the telecommunications industries I was but a young slip of thing who frolicked in the wilderness on those bright, sun dappled, halcyon days of spring, summer and autumn. I can almost taste the ridiculous ripeness of those mornings, afternoons and evenings spread out on the fragrant grasses in white linen and lace. There were no cares and there was no end, but there would be, there always would be. Just as Persephone returned to Hades, winter reared his icy head and exhaled his frosty breath. The warmth of the days retreated and the linen would be replaced with layers of heavy wools. I hated this time of year, after the holidays there was little to nothing to look forward to except a spring that was still far, far away.
There is no escaping the darkness. I awake in a blackened room and return to the gloom after all the daylight hours have been spent indoors in a not so bright office. Some people put themselves under special lamps to get some artificial sunlight so they don’t spiral out of control and into the abyss of a deep depression. I am not one of those people.
Embrace the darkness people, it’s here and it’s not leaving anytime soon. I suggest this month to delve deep into a world devoid of light and life. Read morbid novels and books from Poe to King. Sit quietly in a room lit only by candles. Wear black. Take up the art of braiding hair into mourning jewelry and wreaths. Cut silhouettes or embroider images inspired by monuments dedicated to the dead in cemeteries. Throw a party with a funeral theme. Wear more veils. Decorate with black crepe and white lilies. These are just a few ideas to help you embrace this horrid little month.
As I watch the snow fall outside my office window I’m reminded of the story my dear papa would tell us children…
“Long ago, not far from this very house, further up into the hills there lived a family who worked a small parcel of land surrounded by the forest. The ruins of the homestead are still there if you follow the brook to its source on that old plot of land, but to stay away from that place is best; For it is a haunted place, haunted by the spooks of a family who are now long, long gone.
Winters were harder in those days and this was still considered the wilderness. The people who came to these parts had to be sturdy folk. They had to have a will stronger than most. With few settlers in the area and barely a village for miles it could be a lonesome life, but there was plenty of work and little time for foolishness if you wanted to survive.
For several years the family worked their land, each year pressing further into the forest clearing room for more crops. They were industrious and would have no doubt turned a profit by the following harvest.
The fruits of their labor would come to an abrupt end however.
Winter set in early that year, before the crops were fully harvested and the small family of three (a father, a mother and their son) gathered what they could and prayed for an early spring. Wildlife was plentiful but as the snow climbed higher with each passing storm hunting and trapping become more and more difficult for the father. In February he fell ill and soon thereafter passed away leaving his wife and young son alone, adrift in a sea of ice and snow. The body could not be buried so mother and child tucked the father’s remains away in a wood box outside the cottage. The month wore on and on, the supplies waned. The poor mother and child became desperate, rationing the best they could until the hills were once again under the grip of another winter’s gale. Hunger would become a constant companion for the pair and something would have to be done; something drastic.
Early one morning as the sun was just beginning to rise the starving mother handed her child a knife with instructions to bring back his father’s liver. It was a morbid necessity if the two were to survive. “Johnny, your papa would not want us to starve and although he is no longer with us he shall still provide in our moment of need.” The young boy followed through with the task. He and his mother ate in silence with tears in their eyes.
That evening the wind howled and shook the cottage. Johnny lay in his bed under the eaves of the house his family had made home. The night wore on, but the child could not sleep. Something was calling his name. Was it the wind? Finally he slept.
The following day mother and son once again dined on the liver provided by the father’s lifeless body, their strength slowly restored by its nourishment. The night was silent as Johnny drifted into slumber. He was at the brink of falling into a restful sleep when he heard his name being called again. Listening closely a voice from outside the cottage beckoned. “Johnny, Johnny, Johnny give back…” The voice died off but moments later grew stronger. “Johnny, Johnny, Johnny give back my liv…” Johnny pulled his covers over his head and buried his ears into his bed clothes. It must be the wind, no one could or would be out in this. He didn’t sleep, but he didn’t hear the voice again.
On the third day a storm raged, leaving the mother and child in darkness as it unloaded its burden over them, and again the liver was served. No one could be outside the cottage on a night like this thought Johnny as he lay down in his bed. No one should be calling me this night.
The storm sent shudders through the sturdy building; the trees outside creaked and cracked threatening to fall under the relentless onslaught of wind, snow and ice. Suddenly the door burst open and Johnny dove beneath his bedding. When it closed there was silence, deadly silence, but the crude stairs to the loft began to sound with familiar steps. Johnny kept the covers close all around him. A heavy breathing and the scent of cold wet wool permeated the blankets as a low voice began to whisper. “Johnny, Johnny.” The boy froze for a moment.
All was quiet.
“JOHNNY GIVE BACK MY LIVER!”
At this point of the story papa would roar and grab whoever was closest to him sending a thrill of horror through all of us.
This is a delightful story to tell the young ones on a cold dark winter’s night. You can really dress it up to your liking by adding little details about how the liver was served. I might even suggest serving liver that evening before telling the tale (liver and onions?) or include Foie Gras to the snack list (for you annoying vegans out there I’ve included a recipe for Faux Gras).
Embrace your morbid side this February, who knows, maybe a little party featuring tales of terror and tasty treats might liven things up a bit for you?