Arrows in the Snow by Tom Slemen

Arrows in the Snow

One blazing hot day in July 1815, a sailing ship named Lothair arrived at Liverpool Docks from North America. Among the gaggle of passengers who disembarked from the trans-Atlantic vessel were a rich Scottish merchant named John Allan, his wife Frances, her younger sister Nancy, and the couple's sickly-looking 6-year-old foster-son Edgar. At Liverpool, the Allans met Thomas MacKenzie - a cousin of William Mackenzie, the Scottish railway engineer entombed in the famous pyramidal tomb on Rodney Street. Thomas MacKenzie found two trustworthy and hardworking Liverpool maidservants - Isabel Cook and Joan Slaidburn - to accompany the Allan family to Irvine in Scotland. Isabel's 7-year-old sister Mary went to Scotland as well, and became a playmate for little Edgar, the Allans adopted son.
Just a week before Christmas, little Mary decided she would go out in the nearby woods one snowy afternoon to collect holly and ivy to decorate the Allans' home. Young Edgar accompanied the Liverpool girl, and somehow managed to slip out of the cottage unnoticed. The two children collected holly, ivy and pinecones, and placed them in Mary's basket, but during their stroll in the Scottish countryside, a strange incident occurred. A trail of arrows was mysteriously drawn in the snow on the ground, before the children's astonished eyes. Mary and Edgar followed the etched arrows, and at one point, Mary wrote 'Who are you?' in the snow with the tip of her umbrella - and the invisible doodler crossed out the question with three lines.
The arrows continued to appear, one after the other, and so the children followed them out of curiosity - until Edgar realised he and Mary had been lured onto the thin ice of a frozen lake. As the ice creaked, ready to give way, Edgar seized Mary by the arm and dragged her to safety. The children then heard the voice of an old woman cursing them, but they could see no one, so they ran home and told the adults what had happened. When Mary's 17-year-old sister Isabel went to investigate the arrows, she saw that they really did exist, and when she tracked them to the lake, she recoiled in horror. Barely visible under the thin icy layer of the lake, was the face of a child, and the sight of it sent the servant running for help. Police later discovered that the unfortunate child under the ice was 6-year-old Carol McClean, a farmer's daughter who had gone missing days before. John Allan opined that the arrows had been drawn in the snow by the evil spirit of a witch known as Old Nelly, who had been drowned in the lake by the local villagers a hundred years ago. A total of nine children had drowned in the lake since, most probably lured to their deaths by Old Nelly's evil sorcery. Mary Cook and Edgar Allan were therefore warned to stay well away from that lake. Incidentally, Edgar Allan later grew up to become Edgar Allan Poe, the most famous horror-story writer of all time.

©Tom Slemen 2004. First published in the Merseymart & Star newspapers December 2004.