WinterSmith

Karl Wight felt a smile creep across his face as the orderly undid his restraints, moving to open the old iron gate. Today’s the day. Freedom. The wind flew into Karl’s old bomber-jacket with reckless abandon, needling his flushed cheeks. This is what the world feels like. Alive. The old gate complained loudly as the orderly struggled to push it open, muttering “Damned frost…Just had this thing fixed last week.”

Karl liked the frost though, reminded him of the good old days. God, I miss that old farm. Preparing the fields for every harsh winter was more fun than harvesting ever was. The cursed, familiar, tightness choked Karl’s Heart. He’d felt it, craved it, every night he spent in Bridge-Brook Asylum. Nostalgia. He’d been trained to forget the old days, encouraged to destroy the memories by his physician, Dr. Crest. Flashbacks of Crest’s office started to seep into Karl’s periphery. Hand’s shaking, he pushed the bad thoughts away, looked forward to the orderly motioning him out the gate, and walked forward. What now?

Karl knew how Crest would answer that question. He’d speak sternly, executively, trying to hide the fact that Karl disgusted him. Karl heard Crest’s voice echo “Now Karl, you must simply move forward. What happened in the Great War is over. Your friends will never come back, and to accept this truth is to be cured. These harmful delusions are crutches, a bridge to a past we must burn, together.” But I don’t want to lose my friends, lose the good times. They make me feel, something, anything. But Karl had nodded, accepting Crest’s words,

accepting Crest’s pharmaceuticals,

and accepting Crest’s apathy.

Anything to feel the breeze on my face, just one more time. Two years of swallowing Crest’s orders had led to this day. Was it two or three? No matter, I’m out now. The January forest surrounding Bridge-Brook was breathtaking. The leaves, long dead, had vacated their summer homes. Leaving the simple, frail, and beautiful skeleton of each monstrous tree to dream alone. Thousands of branches hibernating under a viscid coat of fresh snow, layered over older, frozen snow. That old snow, frozen into long and perilous icicles, could fall at any moment. When will I fall? Have I fallen, just now rising?

A brown flash of movement caught Karl’s eye as he continued down the snow-caked drive. A lone fawn? Poor thing. Where are your parents? Who cares for you now? As quickly as the fawn had appeared, it retreated into the icy kingdom, leaving soon-to-be-filled hoof-prints. How can something so beautiful, this Winter-gust, be so destructive? You, who designed this crystalline palace, what was your aim?  The asylums drive widened as Karl continued, revealing a little-traveled county road. The village lies beyond. I’ll go find a phone, dial my Pa. Tell him the good news, let him know his son is better.

Karl paused, examining the small village before him. It looked near-deserted, a thick frost enveloping most aspects of the village. The modest homes had the same layers of snow and ice. It’s different though, this human forest can never compare to nature’s. But, I suppose human creation is a type of nature. Karl continued his walk towards the village, setting his sights for a small tavern at the top of a hill, near an elaborate Victorian-style church. Something just feels different about it, the layers of snow resting on the trees, were beautiful, natural. Here, it screams death, life-lost, cold. It was cold before, but it was ordered. Now it’s attacking these homes, imposing its icy-reign. Is that the point, WinterSmith? Do you hate Humans, do you wish to desecrate our hovels, the way we desecrated your sister-summer? Maiming your trees, hunting your denizens to extinction?

Karl reached the log-built tavern, hesitating outside the door, anxious. What do I say to him, say to mom? They left me here, said they’d come back. They didn’t, but I understand, I forgive them. Will they want to talk to me now…now that I’ve been fixed?

Karl steeled himself, and swung the carved-oak door wide, exposing himself to what lay beyond. As Karl walked in, one of the two men at the bar looked up, scowling, before quickly averting his gaze. No surprise there. Karl studied the homie interior of the pub, looking for a phone. The hostess approached Karl, and said “Hey, you’re going to have to leave. Your kind ain’t welcome here.”

Karl nodded, responding “I’m sorry, I really need to use a phone, I’m stranded out there.” The hostess bit her lip, looking Karl up and down, before nodding to her right towards a small payphone. Karl smiled, gratefully, and turned to the phone. Karl checked his pockets, pulling out two nickels. Reaching the phone, Karl inserted the two nickels, picked the phone up, and dialed his father’s land-line. (843)732-1228. Karl shifted away from the patron giving him a dirty look as he listened to the phone ring.

On the fourth ring, a man picked up, asking “Hello?” That’s Danny. He sounds…older.

“Hey Danny, it’s Karl. I’ve been released, was hoping I could talk to Pa, if he’s around.” Danny started, stuttering, and falling silent. “What was that? Is Pa there, Danny?”

Slowly, Danny responded “Pa’s dead, Karl, he’s been dead for six years, you know that.” No. Six years? No, he can’t be dead.

Burning tears welled in Karl’s eye’s as he asked “Danny, I don’t remember that, how…how did he die?”

Karl could hear Danny stifling tears over the line, “Karl, you locked him in his shed, the frost got him. Remember? That’s why you went to Bridge-Brook.” Danny’s voice faded, cruelly morphing into a dial-tone.

The man from the bar called to the hostess, shouting “Look, that Negro ain’t even talking to nobody, I can hear the dial-tone from here! He’s probably one of those Bridge-Brook nutters, escaped or something! Kickem out, I can’t stand the smell of them.” Karl dropped the phone, before falling to his knees, tears falling. Why…WinterSmith?

The hostess approached, wearing a concerned, not un-kind expression. She helped Karl to his feet, ushering him to the tavern-door. Face flat, tears streaming, Karl said “I’m s…sorry. Thank you for your kindness” before exiting. The hostess closed the door behind Karl, as he looked around, assessing his options. Freedom isn’t as easy as you’d think. Eyes fixating on the dense forest to the right of the village, behind the old cathedral, Karl walked.

Half-way to the forest, Karl’s tears froze, mouth parting into a small smile. It’s not so bad. Pa’s still up in heaven looking down on me. WinterSmith couldn’t have meant to hurt me, he wouldn’t. Smile widening as his face numbed, Karl walked past the first set of trees, admiring the kingdom’s gates. Every part of this forest, every detail, is perfect. If only I could have been perfect, like this. Teach me, WinterSmith. I know you won’t leave me. Karl sat against a large oak, then, unzipping his bomber-jacket, letting WinterSmith’s frost enter him, engulf his senses. He looked up, examining the dense web of snow-layered branches, forming an indescribably complex pattern. Not even Michelangelo could make sense of that pattern. It’s the ultimate painting, the only reality. Today is the best sort of day.

Then, the world shattered. The sky shifted from painted blues to a deep, malevolent, purple and black. A half-smile crept from the left corner of Kurt’s mouth as his eye’s widened in anticipation. He’s here. Karl heard thunder to his right, turning in surprise, he shuddered, taking in the gigantic husk-like creature pulling itself out of a tree. It was at least twelve feet tall, with tight metal horns curling behind each of its long ears. Thick and glossy wood-ice veins traced up and down the creature’s skinless frame. As it struggled to free itself from the tree’s bark, blood-stained white fur started to grow, covering its wounds. Freeing itself from the tree, it roared, mouth opening unnaturally wide, cracking, as its eyes folded into themselves. WinterSmith…you came!

 Suddenly, as the creature turned to Karl the forest grew eerily quiet. Silently, it’s long legs covered the twenty-meter distance in a few strides. Euphoric, Karl pushed his knees under his core, looked up to WinterSmith, and let his arms fall limply to his sides. Reverently, he asked, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” WinterSmith’s dolichocephalic skull fell left, resting on his left, bulbous, shoulder. Am I good enough? Is he judging my sins? WinterSmith’s arms were now covered in the beautiful and glistening snow-colored fur. He raised his left arm, extending his long and pointed claws, and gently rested them on Karl’s shoulder.

Abruptly, Karl’s elation morphed to a rotten, scathing, pain. What’s happening? My…my bones…they’re moving! Karl let out a scream accented by tears and a clawing agony, as his insides started to re-arrange. The pain blinded Karl, as his ribs expanded, inverted, and broke through his burning flesh. Thick brown fur started to replace his gouged and broke flesh as his heels extended and became one with the balls of his feet. The pain stopped, momentarily, and Karl rested on his back, looking up at the portal-like black sky. Is this what you needed, WinterSmith? Okay. Karl convulsed as all ten fingers simultaneously broke and started to shift forward, elongating. The bones pushed through his finger-tips, forming sharp points, as his jaw unhinged, shattering. Make me the instrument of your will, please…

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