Desperate attempts to pray away the snow went unanswered. It only kept falling.
If you and I hadn’t been so audacious to see this crevasse of the world, perhaps a kind fire and hot pitcher would’ve awaited us instead. But our feet sunk deeply into treachery. Frost clamped our ankles. Constricted like a leech’s suction. The trees glared down upon us with morbid branches and expelled hideous shadows. The moonlight drank the warmth of our blood right from our veins.
You tried to replace that warmth with whiskey.
But you weren’t much of a drinker.
The pass had two slopes of glistening rock that decided our path for us. Go forward or go back. No promises either way. Only a looming cloud.
Our first sign of change came when the wind rested. Through the numbing haze, a tower’s silhouette pointed to the black sky with dormant windowpanes. It suggested a stagnancy.
We swung the front door open on its hinges. While the meager walls of this place gave us rest from the serrated wind, they didn’t deconstruct its bitter chill. My fingers and toes were a meal for the winter, and the hunger was never satiated no matter how much flesh I gave. There was a sigh of relief looking back, I’m sure of it, when we spotted that fireplace placed in the middle of the living room.
Against every piece of better knowledge I had, I curled up beside the stone, even before a fire had been lit. Even before I glanced around the room at all the abandoned amenities: the cushioned chair the size of a throne, the great painting that stretched across the whole wall, the candelabras hewn from stone and sheathed in fermented wax. It begged for an intimate touch.
A warm touch.
“Clear the place,” you ordered. “I’m making one trip for dry wood.”
I remember nodding. Not saying a word because my teeth wouldn’t stop chattering.
After taking one last drink, you wrapped that red scarf around your face tautly, leaving a slit only for your eyes. You kicked the door and revealed the perennial blizzard again. Fighting away the breeze with a flurry of shivers, you stepped into the desolation.
I gazed at the dormant fire place and listened to the outside noise. Closed my eyes. Hugged my abdomen. It took a massive effort to reach my feet again, as each incidental movement only accentuated the frost’s hold and accelerated its march toward my core. But once my legs were beneath me, I shuffled across the wide-planked floorboards. I gave the living room a final inspection before answering the zigzagging staircase’s beckon.
As I ascended, the portraits of unfamiliar faces peered down at me from the walls of that unfamiliar stairwell. With each step, those canvases became more bestial. More grotesque. There were eyes shades that eyes shouldn’t be. Far too many teeth in smiles. Poses that struck human anatomy down.
And upon reaching the second floor, an echoing clang rose from the first.
“Brooke?” I called.
“Brooke?” I called again, unveiling my shiv.
I eased my blade and descended again, scurrying faster than my brittle, frost-burdened legs would allow. And as I caught myself from stumbling, I peered down to the first floor, catching no glimpse of you by the fireplace. No kindling. No logs. No embers.
Silence fell upon the tower in the pass harder than an avalanche ever could. It supported every incidental sound that rose to the surface: the muffled wind against the stacks of lumber settling above my lurching breath. And like a funeral fog, that breath obscured.
It obscured the figure of a girl in the corner whose hair was matted and black.
Whose fingers spewed curling nails that were now claws.
Whose bones held hardly a fiber of flesh.
Whose eyes had no whites, only pinks.
And while she may have worn your face, spoke your voice, and walked your skeleton, this girl didn’t resemble you, Brooke. Not the one I found on that day. That day when blades of grass stood taller than our bare knees. When the sun poured an ocean of light. When we could make love in that ocean and never struggle to keep each other warm.