No matter how I stoke the fire or bundle myself in blankets, I cannot escape the constant chill that has crept into my bones and settled there as a permanent resident.
On most days I rarely leave my hearth, afraid to venture too far from it for fear that my very skin will ice over and the blood will freeze in my veins.
Part of this comes from my advanced years. My body has slowly shriveled and shrunken, flesh left desolate by the ravages of time the way it does to all living creatures, and that flame which once burned bright in my belly has faded to a sparse scattering of embers.
Still, there is more to this chill than the mere decay of my mortal form.
I can feel it when the fire starts to dim, closing in around me like some sinister serpent. Sometimes I swear that I catch a glimpse of its icy presence in the periphery of my vision, but when I turn to face it I find only the white smoke of my breath curling in front of me.
When my son comes to visit I try to explain to him that I am being hunted by the cold, but he just smiles and shakes his head as though I were a child whose imagination had gotten the better of him. He seems to have forgotten that it was not so long ago that I was sheltering him from the terrors of the dark and the monsters hiding beneath his bed.
On the mornings when the sun is out and my muscles do not protest my every movement, I sometimes take my cane and amble alongside the dirt road that leads into town. I still have a few friends there; men with withered limbs like mine, and noses full of broken capillaries born from nights spent drinking and thinking we would never be this old.
I asked my friend Ian, who I’ve known since we were both children, if he too was being stalked by this wicked chill?
“No, no, it isn’t the cold.” Ian said, adjusting the spectacles on his nose. “It’s the damnable heat. No matter what the weather is outside, I always feel like I’m burning up. Sometimes I think my skin is just going to melt away like wax and all they’ll find of me will be a pile of bones sitting in my rocker.”
“That sounds like heaven to me.” I said, sipping a mug of tea at our usual table in the corner. “Though I suppose it wouldn’t if I was in your shoes.”
“At our age we’re lucky to be feeling anything at all, hot or cold.” Ian said and laughed as he took a swallow of dark beer and began rummaging around in his pocket for his pipe.
We play chess and reminisce until the sun starts to dip in the sky and then we say our goodbyes, each silently hoping that it isn’t the last one. During the walk home I think of all the time Ian and I have spent in that tavern. The building has been there longer than either of us, but it looks no different today than it did the first time we set foot on its rough-hewn wooden floor and rested our aching backs against its white plaster walls.
My own home has not kept its youthful appearance and seems to creak and groan as much as I do. We shudder sympathetically when the wind comes whipping through the eaves or whooshing down the chimney like an icy blast from a longhorn.
I try to be grateful the way that Ian is, but I cannot see the cold as anything other than an enemy. Even on the warmest of summer days I can still feel it flitting around in darkened alleyways where the sun doesn’t reach, or waiting to usher forth from the sky as freezing gray rain.
It is late autumn now and there is almost no trace of warmth left in the land. We have not seen our first frost yet, but the leaves have already withered and blown away and soon winter will make its presence known and then I will be prisoner to my hearth once more.
My son has not come to visit me in many days. He has a new child and his wife has taken ill from the labor, making it difficult for him to venture far from home. Even if he could visit, there is nothing he or anyone else can do to rescue me. No man can ask another to battle his phantoms for him.
I felt its dreadful presence again this morning. It happened as I was pulling the kettle from the fire; a slender, icy finger traced its way along my spine and a terrible chill spread throughout my body and consumed me like a fever.
I awoke some time later to find my hearth completely extinguished and the room now a bitter, frozen tomb that caused my breath to catch in my throat and seep out in thin white wisps.
If the cold had been merciful it would have finished me while I slept, but I sense that this demon frost wants to witness my demise first hand and I know that I am powerless to stop it.
All my attempts to rekindle the fire have failed, and I fear that the next time my son comes to visit it will be to discover my icy remains.
Until then all I can do is wait and watch as the alabaster vapor of my exhalations curl themselves into writhing, twisted specters of smoke that give me hints of the frozen creature’s terrible visage.
Soon I will gaze upon its true face and stare into those cold, hollow eyes as they watch with wicked delight as the fire slowly fades from my own.
(Author: Peter Emmett Naughton. Story: All Rights Reserved. Image via pixabay.)