My grandmother always says stories don’t have to be real to be true.
We’re sitting at her table by the fire, eating midnight cookies and drinking hot chocolate.
She takes a sip and tells me, “Real and true, they’re not the same thing.”
“What do you mean, grandma?” I ask.
The fire crackles, and outside, I hear the wind. It moans like it feels sad. Snow started falling while we ate dinner, and it hasn’t stopped. It’s the perfect night for a story, and my grandmother tells the best.
“Do you know about the Winter Woman?” she asks.
I know all about the Winter Woman, and I say so.
“When I was little,” my grandmother says, “they would tell us, over and over, that the woods aren’t safe. Not safe for children, not safe at night, and especially not safe in winter, when the other wild things sleep.”
I know this part, so I add, “She never sleeps.”
“Exactly,” my grandmother says. “Don’t go into the woods. Be afraid of the woods, and most of all, be afraid of the Winter Woman.”
My grandmother lives in the oldest house in town, right on the edge of the woods.
“Have you ever seen her?”
“No,” she says. “But that doesn’t matter.”
I ask why.
“Stories have power,” my grandmother answers, “because we believe in them. They have the power we give them.”
“Where did the Winter Woman come from?”
“Somewhere far away, and old,” says my grandmother.
I ask what she’s even doing here, then.
“She followed us,” my grandmother says.
I ask who, exactly, she followed, and why, and where from.
“She’s been with us for a very long time,” my grandmother says, “and she’ll stay with us even after you and I are gone.”
“What does she want?”
My grandmother smiles, and picks up my empty plate. “I think it’s time you go to bed,” she tells me.
She does this every time, every story. She tells just enough, just enough that I want more.
“Tell me, please,” I say, drawing out the “please” for as long as I can. “You always stop at this part.”
“What would you want?” she asks me.
I have to think about it. “Maybe something warm to wear,” I say, “if I’m out in the cold all the time.”
“Is that all?”
“Well, if she’s from far away, and everything else in the woods is sleeping, and people don’t want to see her, then I bet she’s lonely,” I say.
My grandmother smiles again, and ushers me out of the room.
“You’re a sweet girl to think of that,” she tells me, as we make our way up the stairs.
“So, I’m right? She wants friends?”
“We all want friends,” my grandmother says.
She tucks me in and sits by the bed in an old rocking chair. It creaks as she rocks back and forth.
“Will you stay until I fall asleep?”
“Of course,” she says.
“Grandma,” I say, “is the Winter Woman bad?”
“Did I scare you?” she asks.
“No,” I say. “I’m not scared. No one actually believes in the Winter Woman anymore.”
“Is that so?”
I yawn. “Yeah,” I say, and yawn again.
“Then she probably is lonely,” my grandmother says. “Now, go to sleep.”
And lulled by the rhythm of the chair, and the howl of the winter wind, I do.
Thank you for reading! This is the first of twelve stories I’ll write as part of my 2022 Short Story Challenge. Twelve months, twelve stories, and the theme this year is: Folklore
I hope you join me in the challenge! I think it’s going to be a very good year for stories. But just reading is good, too, and I’m glad you’re here. 😊
The next story will be posted at the end of February.