The storm began in the early hours of the 18th of December.
Just a gentle zephyr at first. The faintest of breezes picking up some of the few dry leaves that still lay about here and there to indicate an impending change in the weather.
However, that merest of winds soon turned into a full-blown gale. One that rocked the trees in the tiny hamlet of Greatwaters Bank, mainly age-old oaks, mightily.
They swayed to and fro at ridiculous angles against the increasing force of the wind but they weren't too concerned. They'd gone through similar nights before and would no doubt be around to do so again.
The tiny hamlet comprised just three small terraced red-brick cottages. The two at either end were painted white but, truth be told, the one in the middle looked in a state of some disrepair.
All had various outbuildings attached to them and all came with a decent amount of arable land.
The one at the easternmost side belonged to Samuel Masterton who lived and worked there with his wife Anne and their three-year old daughter Amelia.
The middle cottage was currently unoccupied though and quite likely to remain so for some time, for times were hard and making a living from farming these days was hardly an attractive proposition for any potential newcomer.
But the end cottage was inhabited. Albeit by old Edith Middlemain. Deaf as a post and pretty much a recluse now after her husband Albert passed away recently.
She barely got by. There were occasional charitable donations left on her doorstep from those who cared in nearby Darford, the nearest village some three miles away, but these were hit and miss, especially in the harsh months of Winter.
Samuel and Anne did what they could to help Edith out but they had Amelia to consider and they too were only just about keeping their heads above water.
Of course Samuel augmented the relatively meagre proceeds from farming with some ad hoc smithying. Nothing too much. Just the odd commision here and there. Usually acquired on his regular visits to market in Darford and his attendance at other markets and fairs around the local area.
His blacksmith father had taught him the trade and it was a handy art to possess in such hard times.
Indeed Samuel's father had wanted him to follow in his footsteps but Samuel was set on a different course and farming was something of his own.
Another sound now...just about discernable above the noise of the wind. This time it was the distinctive 'pitter-patter' of rain beginning to fall. And then, all of a sudden, a torrential downpour.
The deluge was too much for the guttering of Samuel's little cottage to cope with as the water sought all and any source to run its course.
The 'drip drip' sound that Samuel heard next meant one thing...the roof was leaking!
That forced Samuel, who had been lying awake listening to the wind and rain for some time, to finally get up and out of his bed.
He told his sleepy wife what was up and she too rose from her slumber to immediately help her husband.
In the darkness of such a stormy night and using only plain sight (candles would have to come later), Anne soon found a large bucket from a cupboard in the kitchen.
'It will do for now' she thought to herself as she hurried back to the bedroom,
Vivid coloured lightning now ripped through the darkness of an inky-black Winter night sky.
All the colours of the rainbow flashed in through the windows of the little cottage, throwing wildly disfigured shapes on the walls as it did.
Any living thing, either human or animal, that hadn't been awakened by the wind, rain or nighttime pyrotechnics definitely had their dreams shattered by the booming sound of the thunder that soon accompanied the lightning.
Little Amelia cried out from where she was sleeping, in a wooden bed Samuel had made himself, in the upstairs bedroom where they all slept together. Anne rushed to her daughter's side and was there to comfort the troubled child in a flash.
Nearly half an hour passed and the electrical storm overhead showed no signs of abating.
The lightning was the brightest Samuel and his family had ever seen and the thunder the most violent, ground-shaking noise they had ever heard.
'Strange that?' thought a tired and thoroughly soaked Samuel, who had been outside checking on his animals (a few dairy cows, some pigs and chickens and their plough horse, William) and making sure his house and other outbuildings weren't about to blow away in the wind.
'There are no hills around here for the storm to bounce back and forth off for miles. So why is it not moving away?' pondered Samuel further.
Another sky-splitting flash of scarlet lightning, followed moments later by a huge, echoing grumble of thunder that shook the very foundations of the cottage.
Samuel hoped Anne hadn't seen what he'd just seen. But she had clearly witnessed the same sight Samuel was still trying to convince himself he hadn't witnessed.
'I thought I saw a...a large...animal...outside?' said a clearly frightened Anne, and Anne didn't frighten easily!
'It's just the lightning casting shadows' said Samuel reassuringly, though secretly he knew he'd seen the same beast-shaped shadow.
'I've checked the animals and their scared but safe' added Samuel
'This looked...big, Samuel' said Anne
Their conversation was abruptly interrupted by another growl of thunder. Yes! It was very definitely a growl...the kind of guttural sound...a large animal would make!
Samuel was a man of the country and he'd often stayed out all night alone in the woods around these parts. There was nothing of this earth that scared him.
But he was scared now. Scared for himself and...scared for his young family!
Maybe a deer had strayed from the safety of the woods, confused by the ferocity of the storm and was blundering around in a state of panic outside.
Samuel peered out of the back window, through the rain, through the darkness, through the mask of fear he was sure he was wearing.
Thankfully the intermittent flashes of lightning illuminated the immediate surrounds for a few fleeting seconds. All looked fine. 'But it didn't feel fine' thought Samuel.
A crashing sound brought Samuel back from his musing.
'Sounded like a roof tile' said an ashen-faced Anne.
'I'm going outside, Anne'
'Just to have a look around again'
'Put our minds at ease' said a serious-looking Samuel.
Samuel was only gone for 10 minutes or so when he re-entered the cottage.
'Roof's lost some tiles and there's a fence or two down but the animal's are still secure' said Samuel with his business face on.
'But...' added a distressed sounding Samuel.
'What is it love?' said a concerned Anne.
'I thought I saw something...in the woods' said Samuel gravely.
'And strange lights too...over yonder' added Samuel, pointing in the general direction of the eastern limits of their property.
'How do you mean 'strange' Samuel?' said a clearly concerned Anne.
'Well...it was too bright to be lanterns of any kind...and it wasn't lightning...from the storm'
'It looked like...like a big...pair of eyes!'
A scratching noise on the back door now. Faint but clearly audible above the cacophony of the storm. Like a dog pawing to come in.
Anne looked reluctant to act on what she had just heard but Samuel's inquisitive nature got the better of him and he moved swiftly to open the door, tentatively at first, to reveal...a very bedraggled...Edith Middlemain!
'Scared!' was all that a disheveled and boggle-eyed Edith could manage in a barely audible, far away and somewhat detached voice...and she wasn't the only one thought Samuel.
At the sight of poor Edith, Anne rallied round to fetch a blanket and cloth from upstairs and quickly set about drying and warming up her new charge.
She soon made Edith comfortable in their best armchair and the old lady was asleep in an instant, despite the continuing maelstrom outside.
Although the wind had died down a notch or two since Edith's arrival, the rain continued to lash down. Oh! And the thunder (if it really was thunder?) continued to roar like a caged lion. It was a truly petrifying sound. One that kept Samuel on his toes. For he wasn't sure about the storm rampaging outside his house...threatening his livelihood and his family...not sure at all!
The strange lightning too continued to puzzle Samuel.
'It wasn't natural', thought Samuel...'It just wasn't natural!
Samuel had witnessed many electrical storms in his life and he knew well how they normally panned out.
This storm was different. For a start, it had been going on far too long. Regular thunderstorms would have petered out by now. And then there was the growling 'thunder', peculiar 'lightning' and strange lights that looked like eyes.
Samuel's internal pondering was shattered by an almighty 'thud'...a sound that reverberated all through the little cottage...and seemed to originate from the back of the house.
'What the hell was that?' quizzed a terrified Anne, whose face was still as pale as a ghost.
Samuel made to go in the direction of the back door but he was stopped from doing so by his worried wife.
'No Samuel...not this time...you stay here with us!' she demanded
But before Samuel had time to think further about the situation, they were both turned to stone by what happened next.
Through the back window they both saw the beast. A huge bulk of a thing. As tall as two cottages stood one on top of the other. And it was marauding around their back yard!
As it did so, its enormous irregular-shaped body clumsily knocked down the huge pile of crates they'd amassed to take the milk to market...turning them to matchwood in a trice.
It must have sensed Samuel and Anne watching it because it immediately stopped rummaging around outside...to turn its attention on the contents of the cottage!
It was like the double beam of a lighthouse that struck their darkened little abode. So bright was the luminosity from the beast's huge discoid eyes that Samuel and Anne had to hold their hands up to their own eyes in order to shade them.
Looking straight at them, the beast emitted a blood-curdling, deafening roar from a mouth that was disproportionately smaller than the rest of its features.
And, taking just one giant step, it moved menacingly nearer to the cottage. The very ground on which Samuel and Anne stood quaking as it did so.
'Hold my hand, Anne' pleaded Samuel, fearing the worst and beginning to utter the first line of the Lord's Prayer under his breath.
His wife gently took his offered hand. Her hand was noticeably colder than his and he gave it a little reassuring squeeze, which she reciprocated.
Samuel and Anne stood motionless for a moment...silhouettes against the supernatural light shining in through their back windows...waiting for their brief lives to be extinguished by this creature from hell outside their home. The home they'd built together. The home that had seen the birth of their beautiful baby daughter. The home in which they were now all about to die!
A huge electrical crackle of lightning overhead welcomingly interrupted Samuel and Anne's immediate thoughts of their imminent demise at the hands of this monstrous ogre from who knows where.
All they could do was watch on in utter amazement as a bolt of shimmering white electricity tore through the jet black sky to strike the cherry tree in their back yard. The old tree going up in a sheet of flame as the thunderbolt struck home.
Then...silence. Nothing at all.
The rain had stopped. The wind had ceased. And the thunder and lightning had at long last gone away. The storm had blown itself out. The storm was over!
But where was the beast? They had both seen it with their own eyes. Where was it now?
What seemed like an hour, but was probably only 10 minutes or so, passed without any further sight or sound of the creature.
Samuel, still holding Anne's hand, ventured over to the back door and ushered his wife away to go and sit down. He was going outside to take a look around!
Five minutes later, Samuel returned with something akin to a smile on his weather-beaten face.
'It's gone, Anne...it's gone!...back to where it belongs'
Nobody really knew what walked the earth that night of the storm.
Other people had heard things too. Other people had seen things. Like the snow-white bolt of lightning that rocketed out of a perfectly clear and star-jewelled area of the heavens to bring the storm to its conclusion. And what could only be described as massive footprints were found in the boggier part of the woods. Things like that, that couldn't easily be explained away.
Samuel and Anne had an idea what it was and they, along with Amelia, went to church in Darford every Sunday to pray that it never came back.
Old Edith Middlemain knew though. She had heard tales about its kind before...long before Samuel and Anne were born. She had seen and heard things too. Things that had made her leave her home and go out into the storm in a state of blind terror to seek help. And she would never forget that night to her dying day.
But most of all, she knew, deep down, that the beast would come back again...when its return was least expected...one stormy night!