A Dark Tale For Yuletide
This is a gift for my fellow fans of a horrifying holiday season. Will you be all alone this Christmas?
'Tis the season to be jolly. To let in warmth and light, to banish shade. But she was so cold. Always. Her feet were blue purple, the colour ascending to white as it reached her knees. She sat for hours in front of the open fire.
Still, they remained a delicate shade of zombie.
Blood dared not enter her fingers leaving them as white as bone. The rest of her could be sweltering, sweat rolling in tiny rivulets between her breasts and down her back.
Shivering beneath the duvet, her body was stiff, the inflexibility of her limbs deterring her search for an open window, a new crack in the windowpane, a forgotten draft excluder. That had been one of his jobs. The heating should have ignited into life at 5 AM, the pump feeding hot water to the empty rooms of her cottage. "All I want for Christmas is…" remained incomplete as she forced her herself to crawl across the bed and twist the radio alarm off. A fluffy dressing gown gave fight – the gift of Christmas past – and she reached for the radiator. She could tell it was hot, but it didn't feel it.
Turning on the kitchen light barely diminished the gloom. Steam meandered upwards dissipating into the grey as she transferred the tea from the pot to the cup. A chip on the end of the spout caused two streams of brass coloured liquid to dribble down the outside of the pot and drip onto the tea stained countertop. She anticipated the warmth of her hands as she gripped onto the mug.
Still, they remained bone chilled.
She sipped and for a second traced the progress of the liquid as it warmed the inside of her oesophagus and ending at her stomach. Exhaling, white mist extended in a fragile puff. Initially she took it to be the steam from the hot tea, but when she put the mug aside, it was her breath that was as white as frost.
The log split into two equally sized pieces and fell to the ground, joining the already substantial pile. Sweat stung her eyes and cheeks. Frost covered each branch and bough in gossamer white, belying the forest's true nature. She picked up another piece of wood and set it on the chopping block. Another one of his tasks. A swing of the axe and again another two logs rested amongst their brethren. Her hands and feet looked as if they belong to her, but they didn't feel it. There would be a fire tonight – a fire from which she couldn't fail to warm up.
On the doormat laid a card. A hugely overweight man smiled at her. She assumed it to be an Australian version of Father Christmas: hanging over a pair of red Speedos sat his perfectly round gut, on his head a Christmas hat. He was tending to a barbecue. Above, the wording read: Have a bonzer Christmas! She could hear her brother's voice in his message – "I wish you were here – it's over a hundred degrees, you'd love it! The kids still haven't met their English auntie yet. With best wishes, Ian."
Flames spilt over the boundaries of the fireplace contorting, reaching far beyond the mantelpiece. Every gap or crevice had been made sound against opportunistic drafts. She jumped on the spot, wrapped in thermal underwear, multiple layers of socks and jumpers.
Still, the cold crept from her arms to her shoulders, from her legs to her bowels.
After piling logs onto the fire, she stamped her feet and rubbed her hands. The glow tinted her pale face hues of orange and shadows enlivened her drab walls. Passing the thermostat she raised it up to 100° degrees. And on returning to the living room she dragged her mattress behind her and set it in front of the fireplace. An inverted Princess with her Pea, she piled the bed high with blankets and duvets of wondrous colours and weaves.
Still, the cold crept closer to her heart.
Body heat, she'd read, was the most effective in overcoming hypothermia.
Death's kiss was calm, tender with love, and at last warmth ran through her body, each organ, every extremity. And she accepted it with gratitude.
Sarah Gray, December 2020