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Summer Chill

©Heath Yonaites

 

How long had he been lost? For days it felt, but that couldn't be the case since he should have perished by now. This much was clear, his time was running out and with no help or miracles he would die lost and alone, only to be discovered as a bleached and withered corpse in years to come. If he was found at all.

The sun was the worst enemy he'd ever had; it was merciless in it's desire to suck the remaining moisture from his already dry body. He sat down and waited. In every direction flowed the vibrating distortion of heat, turning the blighted landscape into a dancing mirage of nothingness, turning the sky into a wavering blue sheet. He marveled at how the heat made the sky undulate. It reminded him of water; he yearned for water. If only his hand could reach out and touch the sky to pull back a fistful of liquid. Reaching skywards he pawed at the air. Nothing. Without much hope he succumbed to his body and fell over, to sleep for the last time.

A cold breeze woke him. Had he died? Upon opening crusty eyes, those burnt pupils surveyed his situation. He was still where he had last been, the land hadn't changed. He had, though. Somehow, he was covered in a fine dusting of powdery white flakes; snow. What had become of him, he wondered. This could not be happening, so it must be a delusion. Lifting his arm to his lips he licked at the substance. It was cold and icy and wonderful. No sooner had he cleaned the snow from his arm with his tongue did it return, like frost forming on a window. It wasn't long before he had drank enough of himself that his strength began to return. Outfitted with a layer of protective cold and life giving moisture the man began his quest anew, to find escape from this lost place. All the time he knew he was dreaming, but really, what choice did he have but to dream till the conclusion. The odd thing was he had never dreamt so vividly before, another sign to him this could not be real but the last gasp of a dying brain.

After about two hours he crested a small hill and saw the tiny community in the distance, flickering like an illusion in the oppressive heat. He managed to remain quite comfortable in his skin of ice, sweating not a drop of precious water. As he walked down the only street in town, looking like a shimmering white specter, a weird thing happened. The townspeople watched the stranger slowly drag himself along the road but said nothing. Most looked on in amazement, some turned away. No one offered help. The man found a store and entered, seeking nourishment. He approached the startled attendant and asked for food, for help. He tried to explain his predicament, that he had wandered for God knows how long and needed something to eat. "Take what you want and leave." That was all he heard and all he needed to hear. Gorging himself on anything and everything, he ate till he hurt, never noticing that he had been abandoned in this strange place, never noticing the townspeople had locked him in the store. When he regained his senses and tried to exit, he found he couldn't.

What sort of trick was this? Hadn't he been through enough? Almost without knowledge of his actions he slowly approached the door and placed his hands upon the glass. Delicate tendrils of frost quickly spread from his white fingers and across the pane, encased it within the icing of the damned. Once frozen over it was no trouble to push his fist through the doorway's glass panel and shatter it to bits. The people ran, got far out of his way. The man shrugged this off, climbed out the opening he had made, and decided to leave such an unfriendly place. He found it harder to walk, though. Examining himself, he noticed the snow and ice had begun to thicken. He was freezing solid in the stultifying heat of day. His heart raced at the notion and he tried to run, hoping if he got out of town the congealing would stop. Perhaps a mile into his trek he took the final step. Those tired limbs could not break through the constricting ice he wore. He was frozen in place, frozen yet alive. The enemy he had so recently hated, that unforgiving star, now loomed above him as his only savior. With closed eyes he concentrated, searched for an answer, but all he could think of was the encroaching cold. What had been a barrier from the heat had now become an unbearably frigid hide of rime.

No one knows how or why, but that afternoon, in a small town somewhere in the South, in the heat of a torrid August sun, a man named Walter Parting froze to death, froze solid in the street.

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