Steam rose from the boiling water.
She glanced at the old clock on the wall, its small pendulum moving like a judgment.
“Fifteen minutes till twelve,” she said loudly.
Her daughter came into the kitchen, leaving the wails of a birthing mother behind.
The old woman poured hot water into a glass tumbler. She then added a mixture of herbs and stirred the concoction rapidly.
“See she drinks all of this,” the old woman ordered. “She must deliver before midnight.”
“Shouldn’t we wait, Mother?” the crone’s daughter asked. “Liam should be back with the doctor any moment now.”
A hard, December wind rocked the log cabin. The kerosene lanterns hung throughout the home shuddered; their flames danced erratically and threw abstract shadows across the wooden walls.
The old woman shoved the glass tumbler roughly toward her daughter. “If the child is born after midnight, it will be cursed!” she warned. “A baby brought into this world on Christ’s birthday is an insult to God!”
”Oh, Mother, I don’t believe such nonsense. Krista’s child will be doubly blessed if born on Christmas.”
“My granddaughter’s progeny is already cursed. It is a bastard child.” The old woman’s face furrowed under a scowl. “And a child of incest as well. Too add a Christmas birth would only seal its fate.”
“I will give this to Krista to drink, Mother,” the daughter said. “But only to help her deliver and end her pain, not because of some old wives’ tale!”
As her daughter left the room, the old woman glanced again at the clock. Ten until twelve now.
She gathered up clean sheets and took the pot of water and started to go to the bedroom where her granddaughter wailed under the intense birth contractions. She stopped in her tracks when the front door of the cabin was thrown open.
Two men entered. They stomped their feet and brushed a light dusting of snow and sleet from their coats.
“Don’t mind her, Doctor,” one said as he pointed to the old woman. “That is my wife’s mother.” The man frowned and added, “She is a superstitious old fool!”
The old woman spoke, but her voice trembled. “He has no right to judge,” she said feebly to the doctor. “Just ask him who the father of the child is. Just ask him!”
Liam pushed his way past her, guiding the doctor to the backroom. “Get out of our way, witch. My daughter needs medical attention, not your black magic.”
The old woman almost fell from Liam’s shove. She dropped the pot of water and the sheets trying to maintain her balance.
She angrily went back into the kitchen. She looked at the clock again, its face seeming to enlarge into a monstrous size.
Five minutes left.
She crossed herself and paced from one end of the room to the other, voicing muffled prayers into the cold air. A baby’s cry soon halted her nervous tread. She quickly looked at the clock and found the hour hand had not quite made its way to twelve. She felt immense relief. “The baby has not sealed its doom,” she whispered. “Thank God it was born before midnight.”
Liam appeared from the bedroom. He gave the old woman a quick look. The doctor soon followed and placed a hand on Liam’s shoulder.
“A healthy boy,” the doctor announced. He turned to the old woman and added, “No matter who the father is.”
Liam took the doctor to the front door. “I’ll look in sometime tomorrow,” the doctor advised. He glanced up at the scattered clouds and found a full moon peeking through the overcast night. The doctor cleared his throat and said, “Merry Christmas, Liam.”
“And to you, Doctor,” Liam replied before closing the door.
Liam saw the old woman sitting down at the kitchen table. Her head was bent in prayer.
He grinned and retrieved the family Bible from its resting place atop a small pedestal. He opened the Bible to the family history page. He took a quill and inkwell from a nearby desk and started to record the birth.
Liam pulled his pocket watch out and checked the time. He frowned and walked over to the clock on the wall, opened its front, and took the turnkey from its slot. He wound the mechanism and moved the hands ahead by ten minutes.
“Forgot to wind it yesterday,” he said out loud, causing the old woman to look swiftly up from her prayers. “Baby really arrived just after midnight,” Liam added with a smile as he faced the old woman. “A Christmas baby then,” he said. “So much for your superstitious prattle.”
The old woman shuddered as the baby cried from the back room, its tiny wail soon transforming into a low, long howl that swirled about the cabin like a meandering spirit eager to embrace all the souls gathered there.
© Copyright 2012 Timothy C. Hobbs
MUSIC BOX SONATA BY TIMOTHY C. HOBBS
At the top of a steep cliff a derelict church serves its congregation of dust, cobwebs and birds roosting in the rafters. One human occupant lives there hidden in the cellar. He is cursed never walk in the tortuous sunlight, but to roam the woods on the cliff at night in the form of a hideous beast struggling with the violent desire to kill while striving to preserve remnants of his own humanity.