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The Cold

It wants you.

Photo Credit: Peter Heeling

I've always loved Alaska.

So much to see, and touch, and hunt.

The mountains know me by my voice. I whisper to them, and they whisper back. Only I can touch their unmoving stone faces. I forge crowns of ice for the highest ones, make them even more proud, even more deadly.

They keep me as I keep the life away, because life disturbs them. Like me, they are not alive. But unlike me, they still can die.

It takes many ages, but I'm old, and I will only get older. I will wear them down, sink deep into their every crack, every weakness. Their white crowns and veils, though beautiful, will weather them to death. The mountains know this, and they do not love me.

Forests shudder when I pass through them. The trees shaped like hands, they reach up to me, and I freeze the leaves on their fingers. They're rooted in place, helpless to move. I clothe them in shrouds, and they wither and die. 

The conic ones with the needlepoints, they're not so fragile. They wear the white death boldly, boastfully, for it does not kill them. They like me, but they do not love me. They only love the way I dress them. 

I freeze the forests, but I run with the beasts. Not the bears; they hide from me. But the wolves, they endure me, and I make their thick coats glisten under the sun and moon. I make their prey weaker, easier to kill. I strengthen their packs by killing the weak, although it's always painful to see such beautiful creatures die. They cry for their lost ones in the hollow nights, and I join their funereal voices. But they do not love me. They wish I'd stay away.

Then there are the ones that are beasts, but think they aren't. They wrap their soft, warm skin in clothes, because they hate me. They build lights upon the darkness, glimmering towers of lights, and I'm not allowed inside. They scrape me away, they rub salt in my wounds. Their whole existence has been a struggle to drive me out.

First they made fire. Then they found coal and oil—the buried dead of the last earth I killed, the things that were meant to stay dead. The soft ones burn them and breathe their ashes, even though they've learned it's poison. They'd rather be dead than be with me.

They are clever, though. They've tamed lightning, wind, sunlight—powerful things they're not meant to have. They think they've beaten me, but they never will. I always get them when they die. I drain the warmth from their bodies.

In time, everything that breathes, and everything that does not breathe, becomes mine.

But none of them want me. None of them love me.


So I move on to a new light, a new house built from dead trees, far away from all the others.

A Woman lives here. They're the softest and warmest. Why does she make her home here, where the trees meet the mountains, so alone? She MUST want me.

Why would she be here if she didn't? 

I watch her move inside the light. Her flitting form casts a lovely shadow. Outside, I've made everything nice for her—does she even notice? I've draped perfect white frills on every inch of the roof, every doorway. I've crystallized her windows, made the light come alive.

Does she even see?

She stares out at the night, at the mountains I've wrought, the trees I've frost-tipped.

She must love them, or she wouldn't be here.

But does she love ME? 

She breathes just inches from the glass, close enough to feel me. Does she see the diamonds on the glass, the diamonds I've made for her? Is she not impressed?

She turns away, and picks up one of her electric objects. A phone. Her eyes move from me to the screen in her hands, and she stares into it, enraptured. 

There are words on it, a message from her friend. Yes, I know their words, though they change faster than the seasons. I'm the one to freeze their voices on the night air as they speak to each other. Though lately, they prefer to type their words, and send them across the ether.  

Her friend has posted a message for all to see, among rows of images, mostly faces.

I can almost hear this other woman's warm voice in the words:

"I got brave and went outside in the subzero wind chill. It froze my wrinkles off, and now I'm 5 years younger. Best snow day ever!!"

The Woman laughs, a delicate sound, and shakes her head. She types:

"Girl, you're crazy! Wind chill’s -35!" and posts her reply. 

In seconds, her friend replies back from the ether:

"Hey, beauty is pain."

 

The Woman laughs again, but she hides sadness, even from herself. Her fingers move across the phone, changing the screen.

She opens the camera feature, and uses it as a mirror. Why do they do this, when they already have mirrors? Perhaps to see the way others see them, instead of the way they see themselves.

She holds her face steady, takes the picture, and studies it.

She has been on this earth only forty-or-so winters—not old to me, but old to her. I can read her life in the lines on her face, and she is beautiful. I see a strong spirit in her, not an aging one.

But she is not pleased, and she deletes the picture.

How can she not see what I see in her? 

I've moved past the glass. I can touch her now. I feel the nape of her neck, so soft, so warm. My touch creeps into the tiny hairs, into her veins, the tiny veins reaching up like the trees. She shivers, repulsed, and moves across the room. Why does she not want me?

There is another, smaller screen on the wall, with numbers to measure my presence and absence. She uses it to turn up the heat. 

I back away, rejected. She does not want me.

But still, I watch her from the window. She opens the door to another room, the one with a bath, and turns the water on. The steam rises up. She closes the door.

I am not allowed in there. She does not want me.

But time is nothing to me. I wait.

Soon she comes out, wrapped in a robe. Her skin is damp, but I can't even touch her. She opens the door to yet another room, and I move to a different window. 

This room has her bed in it, and soft amber light.

I wait at the frosted window, longingly. She stands away from the mirror, unable to face it, and undoes her robe. She has only her skin now, but I still cannot touch her. The heat is too thick. She puts on a different garment, a silken night-dress. So beautiful, the way her shape underneath bends the light. 

For whom else could she possibly look so perfect? Whom is she trying to please, if not me? I don't know. I don't think she even knows. I only know, it is not me.

Why does she not want me? Why does she not love me?

She returns to the main room and picks up her phone again. More messages, more typing. She tries to move on from her dissatisfaction, but she reads her friend's post again.

"It froze my wrinkles off, and now I'm 5 years younger."

It, meaning ME. 

The Woman puts the phone down, and touches her face with her fine-boned fingers. Her head turns to the window. She looks at the snow, through the crystal glass, at ME.

I finally see it. The desire. She wants me!

It is happening now. She puts her boots on. She pauses by her coat, but as she reaches for it, she sees the creases in her arm. Her hand moves past the coat, and grabs her house key instead. 

She ties her hair up, stretching the skin tight on her face. Such a beautiful skull under paper-thin skin. And she wants me now!

 

She opens the door and steps outside.

How does that song go, the one they sing in the wintertime...

Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright...

I've lain a white carpet for her, miles and miles of unblemished snow. There is no moon in the sky, but everything glitters. 

She needs no moon. Her face glows as she takes in the night. Carefully, I touch her cheekbone. She shivers, and her eyes widen. 

I tighten her skin, yes. I smooth the creases in her forehead, the lived-in lines.

No laughter lines, only frown lines.

Why has she not wanted me before?

She has always been cold. She just hasn't known it.

The midnight lights are twisting through the sky now, only the northern sky. They're mostly green tonight. Her eyes take them in.

Does she think I'm beautiful, too?

She has to now. She HAS to. 

My touch is deep in her skin now. Her toes and fingers are numb. She shivers, no feeling in her face. She loves how the feeling dies away. 

Behind her, the door is still open.

I’ve already iced the doorknob. How could I not? 

And the lock, it turns so easily.

I know I shouldn't, but I do.

I slam the door shut.

She turns around, and her face turns livid.

She runs for the door, shoves the key into the lock.

I hold it shut. 

She panics, she grapples with the lock. She struggles and fights me.

But there is no fighting me.

Just as I've broken mountains, I break the key. It cuts her hand.

She cries out, and only the forest hears her.

Blood runs down her fingers. Sweet, dark red blood. I turn it cold before it leaves her veins. 

She is screaming now. Oh, how she screams. 

The window by the door, she slams her knuckles against it. She breaks the glass with her bare hands. But her skin, already cracked and frail, is torn open on the sharp edges.

The white diamonds I made for her, she dyes them red.

Still, she tries to claw her way in. The glass fangs, they slice her wrists.

She screams and screams and screams again.

Yet she keeps on fighting.

She takes off one boot and hammers it into the glass. It does nothing.

Her now-bare foot is still wrinkled from the bath, the bath she took to get away from me.

The bottom of her foot, it freezes to the wooden balcony.

She grits her teeth and rips it away, leaving a red ribbon of flesh behind.

More screams. She screams louder than the wolves.

Now she makes her way painfully down the front steps,

marking each one with a bloody footprint.

Maybe there's another way in.

But I won't let her reach it.

She finally collapses from the blood loss,

and her pain gives way to shock. 

Her lips are too numb to even close.

 

She stares up to the sky, pierced by mountains and trees.

The forest mourns for her now. Snow-tears drip from their dead limbs.

 I delve deeper into her, between her ribs. I turn her heart into a fistful of ice.

I freeze the moisture in her lungs. She stops breathing. 

Her fingers are blue, her torn foot bleeds dark purple.

Her veins are already blackening

I creep through the cracks in her skull, 

set her brain on cold fire, blaze through every nerve.

And then, she just barely turns her neck to the sky.

The green lights glimmer just beyond the trees. They are beautiful, but they are nothing.

She knows now, just as I know. She will not live to see the sun.

I have her now. She hallucinates. I let her see visions unseen by human eyes.

The darkness opens to something deeper, something that has no color, not even black.  

Tears freeze before they can even leave her eyes. The ice abacinates them, blinds her.

She can only see her soul now, just as I see it.

Does she know how beautiful she is?

Does she love me? 

She is mine, for now I'm her only mercy.

Her last thoughts beg for me to end her.

She wants me! She loves me!

 

Her final breath is barely a whisper, barely a smoke curl offered up to the night. 

I lay a final diamond necklace on her eyelashes, and leave her eyes open and dead.

She stares into nothing, and nothing stares back.

She is gone.

The green lights turn blue, then fade away. 

Only the stars stay. I've already taken them long, long ago. Their light is dead.

And now she lies dead too, frozen in blood.

Diamonds shimmer on her face, just like the glass.

She is calm now. The lines are gone.

And she loved me.

Someone loved me!

Her face, a perfect death-mask, now silent, says everything. 

Beauty is pain. 

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