Mr. Lester Pinchitt owned most of the property on the rundown East end of Custer City, Arkansas. His family had made their money in petroleum and natural gas...and also in the diamonds from their "Stars Of The Ozarks Mine" in Murfreesboro! Of all the family though, Lester was the most business-like and practical. When folks would meet him and find out that he came from the Pinchitts who produced all those beautiful engagement rings and diamond bracelets and necklaces, he would shrug, "harrumphh", and return to the buffet table muttering sourly. He wanted no part of the sentimental mush or folly of romance, love, and marriage. His life was "business", and as he got older, people began comparing his manner and appearance to that of Ebenezer Scrooge. ...and so, in 1926, during a particularly brittle Winter, when he was stingy with the heating fuel for the apartment houses of the poor that he owned over in the East end, a tragedy unfolded that stunned and infuriated the city.
It was on Christmas Eve that the temperature outside plummeted to 13 degrees below zero. And, at the same time, 58" of snow blowing in 45 mph wind buried the entire area!.....Because of the Holiday, most people stayed where they were on Christmas morning, and indeed through the next day or so. It wasn't until December 27th that people wandered out, and over to neighbor's homes, and then the gruesome discovery was made... dozens!...Scores of people had frozen to death huddled around their Christmas trees! Some had awakened enough to try attempting to burn the trees in their fireplaces, (if they had a fireplace!), but it was mostly too late even for them as well... In the end, 123 people were found frozen to death in Pinchitt's shanties and tenements, and 82 of them were children.
Back in that time, the poor didn't really have the means or the wherewithal to sue negligent landlords. And so, after a few weeks of scathing editorials and some tut-tutting at the country club or in the boardrooms of the banks, the scandal died down, and the grim Winter of 1927 plodded on while Lester Pinchitt continued on without any inconvenience to his schedule. The cold weather gradually subsided, March turned into April, the Spring gave way to Summer, and the great wheel of the seasons turned in its cycle. Life indeed did go on...and people forgot... or perhaps SOME people. By October, the only mention of the tragedy was a notice from the local courthouse and the police reminding him to be more vigilant in the Winter about heating fuel for the most vulnerable.
The police, in particular, did not want a repeat of the horrendous discoveries and the removal and processing of the bodies through the morgue which had taken them weeks, and required them to stack the dead in the few holding drawers in the coroner's building and finally out in a shed in the back of the courthouse. The Chief of Police reportedly paid a "private visit" to Lester Pinchitt. According to the much-beloved Sgt. Noah Flaherty, the Chief "slammed" Pinchitt up against the wall of his office and banged him around the desks, charts and adding-machines in his accounting room. He was given a "friendly reminder" by the Chief who slapped him around and managed to tear one of the lapels off Pinchitt's sad flannel waistcoat before leaving him crumpled on the floor, furious but silent. Nothing more was said, and October turned to November, and then December...
Finally, on Christmas Eve, Lester Pinchitt, who no one had invited to any celebration, trudged home after a long day in his office. He unlocked the door of his dour manse in a remote corner of Headley Heights, and settled in for the night. It had not even occurred to him that it was the anniversary of so terrible an event...an event in which he had played so terrible a part. It may have been just after midnight when his radiators began clanking. He was sound asleep curled up in the big canopied mahogany bed that had come down the generations to him. He heard the clanking, but dreamed that it was church bells on a Sunday morning in the Spring. He remembered later that, in his dream, it was the most beautiful day he had ever seen, but the bells began to jangle and clank out-of-tune and finally as a loud and almost terrifying cacophony. He stirred from the dream, and thought to himself that he had hired Norris Blanchard, the plumber, only six weeks earlier, to "bleed" the pipes free of any air that would cause the racket. "God damn it!", Pinchitt cried aloud! How could that stupid lout have screwed up the heating system of his house? Blanchard did it perfectly every other year! He hadn't heard steam pipes bang and crash since he was a child in school!! "DAMN IT!! GOD DAMN IT!!" Pinchitt cried, turning in bed and sitting up in fury!
...and then... oh, God... no! NO... hideous! Too HIDEOUS!!... in the corner, just beginning to glow in the blackness... was it?...was it possible? .... a small figure glowing slightly and walking..or floating out of the radiator... almost like steam, but taking a shape.. the shape of... yes. A child...smiling and floating into the room....and..towards him! TOWARDS HIM, Lester Pinchitt!... and another...another... oh God....Dear God!!!!.... more..and more ...smiling and beginning to lift their arms as they neared.... palms open and smiling... and..... reaching out ..to......
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