Cold, Part 9

Fire!

Connected

 

It was easy to find her.

“Can’t you feel that?” Ed said to Marisol as she followed him through the woods.

“Other than the fact that it’s freezing out here, no. I can’t feel anything.”

“That’s what I mean,” said Ed. “It’s cold everywhere. Except that way.” He pointed deeper in the woods.

He could feel the cold all around him. It was wrapped around every inch of his town and his woods. Except for one spot. One spot that burned a hold though his awareness like a lit charcoal in the snow. That’s what he saw when he looked at Kristen. It’s what he had always seen. The only warmth that could penetrate his armor of ice.

Ed trudged forward. Marisol followed.

It was dark. The sky was nearly black and there was no moon. It had been months since Ed had seen the moon. Maybe Kristen and her friends really had bottled it. It didn’t matter. Ed had never needed light to walk through these woods.

He heard Marisol’s footsteps crunching through the frozen snow as they walked. Only her footsteps. His didn’t make a sound. He wondered if that had always happened, and he just didn’t notice. It didn’t matter. They kept walking.

“We’re nearly there,” said Ed some time later.

“Good,” said Marisol. Ed heard her teeth chattering. He realized she must be freezing.

“You should go back,” he said. “You’re going to freeze to death.”

“Nice try,” said Marisol, her numb tongue slurring her words. “You need me. Besides, I wouldn’t know how to get back from here anyway. I am thinking about hot chocolate, though. Hot, scalding, delicious chocolate.”

Ed smiled, but didn’t say anything. He kept walking, one silent step after another.

“Hello, Ed,” said a voice from ahead of them.

“Hello, Arnaud,” said Ed.

“I knew that bastard was still alive,” said Bagel’s voice from out of the darkness. “You owe me ten bucks.”

“I’m glad he’s still alive,” Ed heard Razor say. “That means we get to kill him. I wonder what his blood tastes like?”

“You don’t have to do this,” said Ed. “You can walk away.”

“No, Ed,” said Arnaud. “We really can’t.” Ed heard rustling from a nearby copse of trees, and Arnaud’s hulking form stepped out. The starlight was too dim for Ed to make out features, but he could see an outline. Enough to tell that whatever had happened to Arnaud had gotten worse. His chest and shoulders were lumpy and distended, like he was covered in tumors. And he was enormous. More shapes came out from the trees to join him.

“She woke us up,” said Bagel. “Kristen did. Do you have any idea what that feels like? How can we go back from that?”

“Woke us up…” Marisol said from behind Ed. He had forgotten she was there.

“Kristen can’t be disturbed right now,” said Arnaud. “It’s a delicate period. If you insist on coming forward, that means we have to kill you. There aint no other way.”

“Metalic, I bet,” said Razor. “And cold. Like chilled Sancerre.”

“Alright,” said Ed. “I guess we do this, then.”

“Damn right,” said Bagel. “Killing time!”

Marisol groaned. “Killing time? Seriously? You’re going with that?”

“What’s wrong with killing time? I thought it was good. Was it not good?”

Ed didn’t wait for bagel to finish. He stepped forward and got to work.

There wasn’t anyone to see how it went down, there in the lonely darkness. It occurred to Ed that it would probably have been something to see. Hiss body knew what to do, and he didn’t see much reason to get in its way. Huge fists smashed into him. Something wet and sharp that must have been Razor’s tongue cut along his neck and the inside of his thigh, looking for a vein. Looking to draw blood that wasn’t there. Tiny blades slashed into his arms and his chest and his face.

None of it hurt. None of it mattered. Then it was his turn.

It didn’t take long.

“Ed?” said Marisol after a few moments of silence.

“I’m here,” he said. “It’s done.”

“Are they…?”

“I don’t know,” said Ed. “It doesn’t matter. Let’s go.”

They walked on. They were no longer in a part of the woods Ed recognized. It didn’t feel like his woods anymore. This was Kristen’s territory. Whatever the hell that meant. Her lackeys must have been guarding the entrance.

“It’s warmer,” said Marisol after a while. “A lot warmer.”

Ed nodded. “That means we’re getting close.”

“You’re closer than you think,” said a voice. “Hi, Ed!”

It wasn’t Kristen.

“Marcy?” said Marisol. “Is that you.”

“Yep!” said Marcy. “Hi, Marisol!”

She leapt out of a group of shrubs. Ed could see her eyes. They were huge. Bigger than the entire rest of her head. And her mouth was stretched all the way around behind her neck. He realized he could see her. It had gotten lighter. It didn’t look like sunlight. It looked like firelight. But he had no idea where it was coming from.

“What are you doing here?” said Marisol.

“I’m here to talk Ed out of doing what he’s about to do,” said Marcy.

“Your friends didn’t so that so well,” said Ed.

“Yeah,” said Marisol. “And there were a lot more of them.”

Marcy shook her head. Her eyes jiggled like they were full of jello. “I’m not here to fight you. I’m here to warn you. She’s going to kill you.”

Marisol laughed.

“She already tried that,” said Ed. He touched the knife hole in his jacket. “It didn’t stick.”

Marcy giggled. “Oh, she didn’t really think that wouldn’t work. That was just a sacrifice. Heartsblood. It still counts, even if, you know, you didn’t die. And there wasn’t any blood.”

Marcy stepped forward. She reached out and poked Ed in the nose. “She just need to borrow some power. And get in touch with the head honchos. They thought the fire would be enough. Apparently not. She knows what can kill you, now. She’s shaping it. Making a weapon, just for you. Don’t you feel lucky?”

“She’s stalling,” said Marisol.

“Huh?” said Ed.

“Don’t you see. She’s stalling for time. Kristen’s working on this weapon or whatever, and it isn’t done. Ed, we need to hurry!”

Ed’s eyes widened. He moved forward to push past Marcy. Marcy’s mouth opened, and kept opening. She started to laugh. A high, staccato sound that bounced sharply through the trees.

“You’re fucked, Ed!” She screeched as he and Marisol went past. “You were fucked from the moment your cold, dead seed was born into this broken and exhausted world! You fucked everyone you ever touched, and now the universe is fucking back!”

The voice cut into Ed’s mind, and he could see Marisol clutching at her ears. They moved faster. But they could still feel that voice, that laughter. It sliced into them like it was inches away.

“You’re all fucked! Isn’t that glorious? This will all be made right! The shattered secret will be whole!”

It was a long time until they could no longer feel the laughter. By the time it died away the scene around them looked very different. The snow was all melted, now. And the trees were all burned. Some of them were scorched trunks that still jutted into the sky, but many had been reduced to cinders. Ed saw Marisol take off her coat and drop it on the ground.

“I’m not going to need it,” she said.

Ed kept his on. He felt warm, but it had nothing to do with what he was wearing. Only one thing made him feel warm. And they were nearly upon it.

They saw it long before they got there. A bonfire. It looked nearby, but it was a trick of perspective. It was much, much larger than it looked. All of the bonfires of the world, burning as one. It lit up the sky, like a dying sun barely warming a lifeless planet somewhere in the dead reaches of space.

But it wasn’t a fire. Not really. Ed knew that long before they got close enough to make it out.

It was her. She was resting. Waiting for them. Whatever she had been preparing, it was finished.

“Hello, Ed.” It sounded like her, but also it didn’t. The human voice was a trickle amidst the roaring waterfall.

“Hi, Kristen,” he said.

“I can taste the cold of your skin,” she said. “And what lies within it. Are you ready to die?”

“No,” said Ed. “Not really.”

“Good.” He saw a tongue of flame dance inside the conflagration. Like a wicked smile. “Then let’s begin.”

Cold, Part 8

A snowy way

Connected

“So that’s what happened,” said Ed. “That’s why I wasn’t at school today.”

“And why you got stabbed,” said Marisol.

“Yeah,” said Ed. “And that.”

“You know,” Marisol said, taking a sip of soda to wash down her eighth taco, “I think that is the most you ever said to me. And I don’t mean in one sitting. I think you have just doubled the total number of words said in my presence.”

“Yeah,” said Ed. “Maybe.”

Marisol rolled her eyes.

“And you believe it?” said Ed. “All of it?”

“Of course I do,” said Marisol. “Why wouldn’t I?”

“I dunno. A lot of it is pretty unbelievable, when you think about it. Like Kristen’s face. With the crystal fire or whatever. I mean, I could be making it up.”

Marisol smirked. “Ed, you are the worst liar I have ever met. The worst liar I’ve ever heard of. You lie worse than my little brother, and he’s still thinks I disappear when I cover my face with a napkin.”

“And you’re still not freaked out?” said Ed.

Marisol shook her head. “I know I should be. But it’s like none of this is really happening, you know? I mean, none of this. Like everything that happened since Kristen showed up is, like…”

“A dream?”

She shook her head again. “Like someone else’s dream. I’m borrowing it, like a book from the library. And someday, pretty soon, probably, I’m going to have to give it back. Does that make sense?”

“Not really,” said Ed.

“It’s kind of neat, actually,” said Marisol. “Like being in a movie. All this crazy shit is happening and none of it is real. No, that’s not it. It’s super real. Probably a hell of a lot more so than the usual crap that goes on. But it’s not real for us. We can just deal with it and then get back to normal. As soon as we leave the theater. Why? Are you freaked out.”

“No,” said Ed.

“Have you ever been freaked out?”

Ed thought about it for a second. “No.” It felt strange to say it out loud. To think it all.“I mean, I realize I must be different from other people. Because I got stabbed. And didn’t die. That must mean I’m different.”

Marisol laughed. “You’ve always been different.”

“That’s what I mean,” said Ed. “Like, I don’t feel pain. And my fingers can get cut off and stuck back on. But it never seemed weird, you know?”

Marisol nodded. “I know. You’re just Ed. It’s just how you are.”

“Yeah. So what’s up with that? Shouldn’t the men in black be coming for me, or something?”

“Do you want them to?”

Ed shrugged. Marisol laughed again.

“Fine,” she said. “I see what you’re saying. It’s not just that you’re weird. Really weird.”

“Thanks a lot,” said Ed.

Marisol smiled. “No problem! So it’s not just that you’re weird. It’s also weird that nobody really cares.”

Ed nodded.

“I feel like I’ve been avoiding this kind of thinking all my life,” said Ed. “Without even knowing why.”

“Yeah.”

They fell into silence. Marisol dipped a chip into the spicy salsa and ate it.

“Fine,” said Marisol. “So, what’s next? Aare you going to hit the library and look in the ‘crazy occult mystery’ section? Or go on a journey of self discovery into the mountains.”

“Maybe,” said Ed. “But not yet. I have something to do first.”

Marisol took another sip through her straw and raised her eyebrows.

Ed’s eyes hardened. It was the most dramatic expression she’d ever seen on his normally stoic face.

“I’m going to find Kristen,” he said. “And I am going to kill her.”

“I thought you were going to say that,” said Marisol. “And I’m going to help you.”

Ed’s eyes widened. “Marisol, this is dangerous. She’s some kind of hell demon, or something. She could kill you. Or worse.”

Marisol reached over and took Ed’s hand in hers. “Ed, I’m supposed to come with you. I know it. And besides, I’m living in someone else’s dream, remember? Nothing can happen to me. Not until they wake up.”

Ed nodded. Both of them stood up. Marisol left a small pile of money on the table. Then, together, they walked out of the taco shop, and into the snow-covered night.

Cold, Part 7

winter tree

Connected

The came for Ed in the woods, in the middle of the night.

It happened a week and a half after the night Kristen came to his room. During that time he didn’t see Kristen at all. She stopped coming to school.

“Good riddance,” said Marisol after Kristen was gone for a few days. “Maybe now things can get back to normal.”

They didn’t. All of the people who had been following Kristen around seemed listless. They just wandered through the hallways of the school aimlessly, going to classes and not talking or interacting with anyone. Some of them just sat on benches in the halls and never got up. There was one boy who Ed noticed was wearing the same clothes on Friday he had on Tuesday. Ed wondered if he’d gone home, or if he’d been on that chair for the entire week.

Ed for his part wasn’t sure how he felt about any of this. Marisol said Kristen was a psycho, and she was probably right. But that didn’t change the fact that Ed missed her. He missed looking at her. He missed touching her.

“What did you even see in her?” Marisol asked.

“She was perfect,” said Ed.

“Perfect like a deadly virus, maybe.”

Ed pretty much agreed. But how often do you get to touch perfection?

It was well into April, now, and the cold weather showed no sign of letting up. No one seemed to really notice. Or rather, no one seemed to really care. Not caring was going around. Even though Kristen was gone, the strange effect she was having on everyone seemed to be getting worse, not better. Even many of the teachers weren’t bothering to teach, anymore. The students of Okenville High, and the people of Okenville, seemed content just to drift through life, without interacting with it.

“It’s like they’re all turning into you,” said Marisol. “No offense.”

Ed shrugged.

“Only, you know, you did it before it was cool.”

He thought about Kristen a lot. Especially at night. He wasn’t sleeping much. At all, really. She burned in his mind when he closed his eyes. Like she was always right there, nearby. In the darkness. But he could only see her while all other light was gone.

“Why don’t you go find her?” asked Marisol. “Like, go to her house.”

“I don’t know where she lives,” said Ed.

Except, maybe, for the darkness. He tried to keep distracted so he wouldn’t think about her. He read Call of the Wild for the fiftieth time. He played video games. Increasingly, he snuck out of the house and night to go walking in Fallsdale woods. He tried to find the clearing where the party had been, but he couldn’t. Even though he remembered how to get there. He went back to the place where the log fell on him, and Kristen watched him dig himself out for two hours. But mostly he just wandered.

That was where they got him.

“Ed,” said a voice from behind him. “Don’t move.”

Ed turned around to look.

“Dammit! I said don’t move dammit!” It was Arnaud, the large guy from the bonfire who had punched Ed in the face.

“Sorry,” said Ed. Arnaud glared at him.

“I’ve got him!” Arnaud called out.

Ed saw a bunch of people coming from various directions towards them. He couldn’t see them very well at first. It was very dark. But they all had flashlights, and when they got close he could just make out their faces. Marcy was there. So was Razor, and Bagel, and several other people who had been at the party.

“Hi, Ed,” said Marcy. Her voice was slurred, just like it had been at the party. Was she drunk again? Or still drunk?

“Nice job, Arn,” said Razor. She walked up to Ed and rubbed her hands along his arms through his Gore-tex jacket. “We got you.”

“Okay,” said Ed.

“And now you’re going to come with us, motherfucker,” said Bagel.

“Am I?”

“Yeah,” said Arnaud. “We bringing you with us.”

He thought about this for a minute. He could go with them. It’s not like he had anywhere else to be. On the other hand he didn’t care for any of these people terribly much. They were all either strange, assholes, or boring.

“No,” said Ed. “I don’t think so.”

“You don’t have a choice,” said Arnaud.

“We’re going to make you,” said Bagel, with an excited edge in his voice. “You can’t stop all of us.”

“Yes,” Ed said. “I can.”

“Oh come on, Ed,” said Marcy. “Don’t you want to come? It’ll be fun!”

“Not really,” said Ed. He turned and started to walk away.

“Don’t be like that,” said Razor. “If you don’t come, Kristen will be so disappointed.”

Ed froze.

“That’s right,” said Arnaud. “We’re bringing you Kristen. She wants to see you.”

Ed knew he should just keep walking. That’s what Marisol would tell him to do, and she usually had the right idea. He hew that’s what he should do. Instead he turned around.

“Fine. Whatever. Just lead the way.”

They walked for a long time. Ed had no idea why it took so long. He’d been all through these woods, and it shouldn’t take this long to get from one side to another. It wasn’t until the sun rose above the craggy trees that he realized they were in a part of the woods he had never seen before. And that wasn’t the only thing he didn’t recognize. Now that it was light enough to really see them, these people he was with didn’t look like they had before. They had changed.

Razor’s tongue lolled out of her mouth. And her skin glistened in the sunlight, like it was covered in some thick, slick substance. Arnaud was even bigger than before. Too big. It looked like his muscles were threatening to burst through his skin, and had, in a few places. Marcy’s eyes were huge, and her mouth looked like it had be stretched out by hooks. Bagel’s face was covered in cuts. Dozens of them, still fresh.

Razor smiled at him.

“Do you like it?” she asked. She ran her hands up and down her bare arms and moaned. It looked like she was trying to be sexy. It made Ed feel ill.

The trees all around were strange. Many of them looked like they had been burned, but they were still growing. The shrubs were covered in orange berries Ed had never seen before. He had the strong urge to grab them and shove them into his mouth, but he resisted. It seemed like a very bad idea.

They kept walking.

Eventually they got to a clearing. It looked like where they held the bonfire, but it was different. There were signs of several fires lit and extinguished. They looked very old. The trees that lined the clearing were very tall. Taller than any tree Ed had ever seen before. And strange. The branches were too uniform. They jutted out of every tree in exactly the same way. They seemed to form shapes in the air. Like letters of some foreign alphabet.

“Here we are,” said Arnaud.

“Where’s Kristen?” asked Ed.

“She’s coming,” said Marcy. “You have to be patient. She’ll be here.”

“Sit down,” said Arnaud. He pointed to a spot on the ground next to one of the old fires. Ed didn’t see any reason not to sit down, so he did.

The others started to talk among themselves. Ed sat in silence. He listened to them for a while, but they weren’t saying anything that made much sense to him. Soon enough he drifted off into the non-thought where he spent much of his time. Several hours passed. He barely noticed.

“You’ve kept me waiting, Ed.” The voice was harsher than the cold. Harsher than the scorpions that so recently gouged their way into his flesh. It had been a long time since he had felt any pain, but this voice dug into Ed’s brain, and he winced.

“Hello Kristen,” he said as he stood up.

“Sit down,” she said. He sat back down.

He heard her footsteps crunch on the frozen ground. She walked around to face him. He looked up at her.

The skin covering her face was gone. In its place were sheets of a strange crystalline substance. Like solidified fire. So this is what she really looked like. This was the real Kristen Selka. Ed had never seen anything so beautiful.

“You’ve given me a lot of trouble, Ed,” she said. Curls of steam drifted out of her mouth and upward into the winter air. “I don’t know what your game is, but I’m not going to play it anymore.”

“Kristen, I…”

“Shut up!” she barked. There was an edge of desperation in her voice. She reached down and picked up a handful of snow. “You think this is going to save you? You think this would hide you from her?”

Ed said nothing.

“You won’t give me what I came for,” Kristen went on. “So I am going to rip it out of you. One way or another.” She turned to Arnaud. “Hold his arms.”

Arnaud walked up to Ed and grabbed one of his arms. Bagel grabbed the other. Ed didn’t resist.

Kristen stared into his eyes. “Goodnight, Ed.” A wild look filled her face. She screamed a shrill scream into the air, and she thrust her hand to his chest. Her fingers hit his sternum with a thud.

“No!” she screamed. She clawed at him with her fingernails. “No!”

“What’s wrong?” said Razor from behind Ed.

“It isn’t working,” Kristen shrieked.

Ed felt heat rolling off of Kristen’s body like waves of magma. She screamed again.

“Fine. Then I’ll take it out of your corpse. Marcy, give me the knife.”

“Kristen,” said Marcy, “are you sure you should…”

“Give it to me!”

She reached over his shoulder. When she drew her hand back she was holding a long hunting knife.

“This wasn’t how it was supposed to be,” said Kristen. “You haven’t given me a choice.” She raised the knife in the air.

For a brief moment, Ed’s life tried to flash before his eyes. It didn’t get very far. He thought about everything that had led him to this moment. He supposed he should be scared. Or angry. But he wasn’t. Maybe there was something wrong with him, that he couldn’t feel the things a normal person would feel in a situation like this. But it was hard to worry about it, right now. Looking up at this insane girl he had felt such intense emotions about, he just felt sorry for her.

“I’m not mad at you, Kristen,” he said. “I just wanted you to know that.”

Kristen’s eyes softened. Then they hardened, and she thrust the knife into Ed’s chest. Right through the center of his Gore-tex jacket. Right through his heart.

It didn’t hurt. There wasn’t any blood. But all of the energy drained out of him. He felt calm. Peaceful, even. For the first time in over a week, Ed closed his eyes and went to sleep.

Cold, Part 6

 

Barn window

 

Connected

Fortunately, Ed got a lot of practice over the next few weeks. Kristen grabbed him and kissed him or pulled him into empty rooms to do other things seemingly at every opportunity. A few times she came in and took him out of class to have her way with him. None of the teachers reacted, except to tell the class to settle down from murmuring and occasional cheers.

“Do people around here seem to be acting weird?” Marisol asked Ed one day on the walk home.

“How do you mean?”

“Well, have you noticed how everyone at school has been following Kristen around?”

Ed shrugged. “She’s popular.”

“No one’s that popular,” said Marisol. “And before you say anything, no, I am not ‘just jealous.’ You are a bastard for even thinking it.”

The thought hadn’t crossed Ed’s mind.

“Plus,” said Marisol. “You notice how none of them wear shoes?”

“Huh,” said Ed. He had noticed that, but hadn’t really thought about it. “Now that you mention it, that is a little odd.”

It wasn’t just shoes. Many of the people at Okenville High had begun to dress like it was the middle of summer. No coats, no sleeves, no thermal underwear.

“Nurse Klingon said she’s never seen this many cases of frostbite,” said Marisol. “And she’s been to the frozen vacuum of space.”

Ed laughed. Marisol had been on about that for years, but Ed was pretty sure the school nurse wasn’t really a Klingon. Even if she did kind of look like one.

“So it’s weird, right?” said Marisol.

“Yeah,” said Ed. “I guess it is.”

“The question is, what do we do about it?”

Ed didn’t answer, and the conversation lapsed into silence. It seemed Marisol didn’t have any answers to her own question.

For Ed’s part, he didn’t see much need to do anything about it. He was involved with the girl of his dreams. Or he would have been, if he had any dreams. He couldn’t remember the last time he had a dream. And she was, as far as he could tell, crazy about him. He did kind of wish she would see him outside of school. He asked her a few times to dinner or the movies or a walk through the woods. She just smiled, kissed him, and said, “later.”

For now he was willing to take what he could get.

“This is my house,” said Ed when he and Marisol reached the edge of his yard.

“Oh,” said Marisol, shaken out of her reverie. “So it is.” She turned and looked Ed in the eye. “I’m going to figure this out, Ed. When I do, can I count on your help?”

Ed didn’t know whether he wanted anything to do with this. But Marisol had been his best friend his whole life. So what was he supposed to do.

“Of course,” he said. She beamed at him. Then she turned and walked up the road, and was gone.

The evening Kristen came to his house. She knocked on his window as he lay in bed. He just stared at her in shock.

“Well?” she asked. “Are you going to open up?”

“Oh,” he stood up abruptly and hastened to the window. “Sorry.”

“Help me through,” she said as she crawled through the window. He took her by the hand and guided her through. She straightened up on her feet and shook the melted snow from her clothing. She took her jacket off and handed it to Ed, who hung it on the door.

“Are you cold? Do you…do you want something to drink?” asked Ed. “I could get some hot chocolate, or…”

“Listen, Ed,” said Kristen as she began to unbutton her shirt. “I think you’ll agree that this isn’t working.” She bent down and unlaced her boots, and then slipped them off. Then she pulled off her socks, and began to pull her pants down.

“It isn’t?” Ed forced out.

Kristen shook her head. A spray of water flew off her hair and hung in the air like mist. “I’ve been trying and trying, but you keep resisting. So it’s time to try something new. Lay down.” She straddled his prone body and pulled off her unbuttoned shirt.

Clinging to her torso were half a dozen four-inch long scorpions. Their bright orange carapaces glinted in the light of Ed’s bedside lamp like they were next to a roaring fire.

“Don’t move,” Kristen said as pressed her exposed chest down onto his. “They don’t like it when you move.”

Twenty minutes later Kristen was angrily putting on her clothes.

“I don’t know why the fuck you would do this to me,” she said. “After everything I have done for you.”

“What? What did I do?”

“I’m sick and tired of these games. This has to end.”

“What?” Ed said. He tried to put his hand on her shoulder. She batted him away. “Is I them?” he asked. He pointed to the frozen, cracked husks on the ground that so recently were living scorpions. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what…”

“You know.” She grabbed him by the chin and forced him to look into her eyes. Her gaze felt like hot irons pressed into his retinas. It was uncomfortable, but he didn’t pull away. He had no idea what was happening. He had no idea what had happened when those scorpions crawled over him. All he knew was that Kristen was angry, and it was his fault.

“You know,” she said again. “You pretend to be foolish. I’ll have you know I never believed. Not for an instant.” She pushed him away and stepped towards the window. She wrenched it open and began to crawl out.

“Kristen, wait,” Ed said. She didn’t stop.

When she was most of the way through she turned to look at him.

“A reckoning is coming, ‘Ed,’” she spat. “Mark my words. I will have what I was sent to get. One way or another.”

Then she slammed the window. Ed raced forward and opened it. He was going to leap out after her. He was going to follow her and, somehow, convince her to see reason.

But he didn’t. When he looked through the window he couldn’t see her. She was already gone. There was nothing left to show she had been there at all, except melted footprints in the snow.

Cold, Part 5

Ice macro

 

Connected

The Monday after the party, Marisol pulled Ed aside to speak to him.

“So,” she said to him, an edge in her voice, “Kristen’s your girlfriend now, is it? Must have been one hell of a party.”

“She is?”

“That’s what everyone’s saying.”

“Oh.”

Marisol laughed. “Did you seriously not know?” Ed shrugged. She put her hand on his shoulder. “And here I was working myself up to yell at you for not telling me.”

“I told you what happened at the party,” Ed said. It was mostly true. He left out the sitting on his lap and whispering in his ear part. But he told her most of it.

“Oh Ed,” said Marisol. “What in God’s name are we going to do with you?”

Sure enough, Ed started to notice that his classmates were giving him strange looks. He had no idea how to interpret these new expressions. Nothing like them had ever been directed at him before. They were partially “you’re weird,” but he recognized that part. There was something else there, too, that he couldn’t identify.

He more or less wrote it off as one of the many things about the world he would never understand until Steve came up to him outside of the locker room. He held up his fist for Ed to bump, and said, “Respect,” with a sly smile on his face.

Respect. So that was it. Huh.

During fourth period someone brought him a note from Kristen.

“Lunchtime. Outside the auditorium. Let’s make this official.”

One thing he could say about Kristen. She wasn’t predictable.

When the bell rang for lunch Ed headed for the auditorium. He noticed a lot of other people were heading in that direction, too. When he got there he saw that a crowed had gathered.

“Oh, Ed!” Kristen’s voice rang out from the center of the crowd. “There you are. Get over here!”

Ed walked through the throng of people, who moved out of the way to let him pass. He saw students and teachers alike, all staring at him with half-formed smiles on their faces. Even the principal was there, and Mr. Clark, the janitor. As he reached the center, he saw Kristen sitting in one of two chairs laid out in front of the auditorium doors. She waved her hand at the other chair, and Ed took that as a cue to sit down. From the smile that blossomed on her face he figured he was right.

“Now Ed, as you know I’ve decided you are to be my new boy,” she said. There were scattered giggles from the crowd. “I think the time has come to show everyone what that means. Don’t you?”

Ed stared at her for a long moment before realizing she had asked him a question. “Oh,” he said. “Yeah. Um…yes.” He heard more giggling.

“Good, then,” she said. “It’s settled.” She closed her eyes and leaned forward. Ed stared at her. She had beautiful eyelids. Soft but very strong. Like they could keep the fires of hell from burning through to her eyes. He wanted to lean forward and kiss them. She was so close to him.

“Kiss her, you idiot!” someone called out from the crowd. Everyone broke into laughter. Ed suddenly realized that she wanted him to kiss her. It was the only thing that made sense. So he leaned forward and pressed his lips to hers.

She grabbed him by the back of the head and pressed him into her. The crowed erupted into hoots and shouts. Kristen’s tongue snaked into his mouth and wrapped around his. The feel of her, the taste of her, inflamed his senses. He felt fire running through his bloodstream. Steam slow-cooked his brain as the kiss went on and on, and his thoughts boiled into overcooked lumps of useless matter.

The longer it went on the more tightly her fingers seemed to press into Ed’s skull. The more deeply her tongue seemed twined into his soft tissue. It felt like her body was stripped of coverings, and every inch of her flesh was pressed against him. It felt like her tongue had sliced open the front of his torso, from the neck to the scrotum, and was now bathing his organs in its caresses.

Then suddenly there was a sharp sensation in his mouth. It didn’t hurt, of course, but it felt like a sting. He felt Kristen pulling away from him. He became aware of the babble and cheers of the crowd.

“Your first kiss,” said Kristen, loud enough so everyone could hear. “I wanted to make sure you would never forget it.”

A few people in the crowd clapped.

Kristen looked into his eyes. She was smiling. Aflame. Triumphant. But there was something else there, too. He couldn’t quite place it. He wasn’t very good at this sort of thing. But he thought, just maybe, it was disappointment.

He guessed he wasn’t a very good kisser.

The Frozen Secret

Neutron Stars Rip Each Other Apart to Form Black Hole

 

Connected
I found the first secret at the quiet edges of the blackest corner of the sky. It was curled behind a patch of darkness. Not the darkness that fills the spaces between light. That is the sleeping darkness. The passive darkness. No, this was the true darkness. The swift, breathing, hungry darkness that has not been seen since the first sphere cracked and hurled its destructive light across the inert universe. The secret fed the darkness buried truths, and the darkness stood between the secret and that which would hunt it. But it could not hide from me. I rent the darkness into particles, and took the secret for my own.

The second secret wedged itself into the heart of a violent star. The secret’s sharp, cold edges dug into the star. It kept it angry. Kept it burning with a heat that could melt other, calmer stars. The star breathed its plasma breath inward at its tormentor, and the secret burned. The secret screamed. The secret suffered. And as it suffered it cut deeper, and the star flamed. The secret believed its captive protector who scream so loudly in the tongue of nuclear fire that I could not entire. But it could not burn me. I wrapped myself in a skin of the hungry darkness, and it consumed the fire. It consumed the light. I danced through the light into its heart, and took the secret for my own.

The third secret buried itself in the prey animal of a voidshark. The voidshark consumed the prey, and so it consumed the secret. The secret coursed through its blood, and changed the creature. Its negative-crystal hide grew tougher. Its teeth grew sharper, and its venom grew deadlier. It grew cunning. When it rent flesh its brethren watched. They learned. The deadliest hunters in existence grew more deadly. Within them, a fire grew that had not been there before. They had a purpose. They had a leader. They had a God. They hunted through the stars, and they became a terror the likes of which the universe had never seen. They killed, and the decimated, and they protected their God with all that they had. Until I came. I spoke in the language of nuclear fire. It burned through their devotion. They scattered before me. When I reached the first of them, it had no protection but its teeth. We fought, but its venom could not taint my artificial blood. I pulled the liquid from its veins, and took the secret for my own.

About the fourth secret I shall not speak, save to say that it is mine. Its disguise was most cunning, and contained within it the seed of its own release. It tempts me with its wiles. With its promises. But I will not break. All that needs be known is that I found the secret, and defeated it, and took the secret for my own.

The fifth secret dissolved itself on the tongue of a madman, and so his words became true. He spoke his fragmented whispers, and people listened. His words spread among the land, leaping from tongue to tongue, and from mind to mind. And always studded with tiny splinters of the secret. When I came to this place I believed my cause was lost. I heard slivers of the secret from every mouth, but I could not grasp it. But I had secrets of my own. I spoke, and people listened. My secret leapt from tongue to tongue, and in those minds where the fifth secret hid its tendrils, it was forced to fight its sisters. Armies rose up in defense of the insane truths whose secret thorns were wrapped around their every thought. In the end, the secret, fearing death, crawled back to the tongue of the madman. I ripped out that tongue, and took the secret for my own.

I found the sixth secret in the Well of Twisted Devotion. I could not retrieve it until I believe that which was most precious to me was lie. The secret counted on my passion. It did not reckon on my strength. I twisted and scored and rent my insides, until my passion was a broken agony of its former magnificence. The loss wounds me still. Like shards of glass scraping the inside of my eyelids. Every time I close my eyes. But it matters not. I reached into the well, and took the secret for my own.

The seventh and last of the secrets is on the wind. I can taste it. Its scent inflames my senses and makes my wings shiver with its immanence. I do not know where it is. But it is frozen. It is frozen so deeply that its scent is the whisper of an echo of a dream. But I will find it. I will hide in darkness, breath out nuclear fire, spew out venom and speak twisted, mutilated madness.

And I will take the secret for my own.

Cold, Part 4

Rearview Silhouette

Connected

The party was in a large clearing in Fallsdale woods ringed by trees Ed had never seen before. Gnarled and gray and splotchy. That was odd. Ed grew up in these woods and he thought he knew what all the trees looked like. Come to think of it, it was odd that he’d never seen this clearing before. He didn’t have any trouble finding it.

“Ed!” said Kristen when he arrived. “Come. We started a fire.”

She didn’t need the say it. The bonfire blazed in the center of the clearing like a hungry mouth. It licked at the darkness and spit sparks into the sky.

“Hey, Ed,” said a girl sitting by the fire.

“Oh. Hey, Marcy.”

Looking around, there were about a dozen people here, talking and laughing and drinking from milky-white bottles. Two guys were throwing pine cones at each other and hooting like they’d just invented the best game in history. But Marcy was one of the only people Ed recognized from school. She used to be class president, but he heard she hadn’t been to any of the meetings in a while. In fact, Ed couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen her at school.

“See, you know people,” said Kristen. “I don’t know what you were so worried about.”

Ed didn’t remember saying he was worried. He hadn’t been. But he was now. Something about these people made him uncomfortable. They way they all looked at him. The way they looked at Kristen. They way they all swayed with the breeze, as if they were stalks of grass in a field. Ed told himself they were probably drunk or something. That’s what he told himself.

“Come,” Kristen grabbed him by the hand. “Let me introduce you to everyone.”

She walked him around the circle. She told him people’s names, but they fell out of his head almost immediately. She added in a few details about everyone, but they didn’t seem to make much sense.

“This is Razor,” she said of a short black girl covered in tattoos. “She’s been resonant for, what, six years now?”

“Seven,” said Razor. Ed didn’t ask what that meant. They moved on.

“And of course you’re already friends with Bagel,” said Kristen. Ed looked. It was one of Ryan Sutherland’s friends. The one that had elbowed him in the stomach the day before. Apparently his name was Bagel.

“Yeah,” said Bagel with a sneer. “We’re good friends.”

Ed didn’t say anything. He just followed Kristen back to the fire.

“Hey, Ed,” said Marcy. “You want a drink?” She held out one of the white bottles.

“What is it?” asked Ed. “Beer?”

Everyone standing around laughed as if he’d just said something dumb. Something quaint.

“No, silly,” said Kristen. “It’s mahsa. Distilled and fermented moonlight!” She threw her arms up towards the sky.

Ed looked up. He didn’t see a moon. Ed wondered if Kristen had sent one of these people to climb into the sky, rip down the moon, and puree it into this stuff.

“Have some,” said Kristen. It wasn’t a request.

Ed shrugged and took the bottle. He twisted off the cap, pressed it to his lips, and took a swig. It tasted strange and warm, but it froze in his throat. He realized that everyone was staring at him. Like they were waiting for something to happen. Ed took another sip.

“Damn,” said Bagel after a minute of silence.

“See?” said Kristen. “What did I say about him?”

Ed didn’t know what they were talking about. He didn’t ask. A few seconds later everyone stopped staring and went back to their conversations. Or their pine cones. Kristen floated around the group, slipping in and out of conversations with anyone and everyone.

Ed sat there in silence. He decided that he didn’t like the mahsa much, so he put it down. Marcy tried to talk to him a few times, but he couldn’t follow what she was saying. How many of those bottles had she had?

Ed considered trying to talk to these people. That’s what Marisol would have told him to do. She said he was compulsively antisocial. But it didn’t seem that interesting. What would they have to talk about? He supposed he could talk to Bagel about football. But Ed didn’t much like talking about football. He didn’t have much to say. And he didn’t much like Bagel. So he just sat there, alone. He didn’t mind. Eventually something would happen. Or the party would end and he would go home. Either way it was what it was.

Some time later Razor walked over and sat down next to him.

“So Ed,” she said. “What other kind of crazy things can you do?”

“Crazy things?”

“Yeah,” said Razor. She leaned in and rubbed her shoulder against his. “What else can you do?”

“I dunno,” said Ed.

“He can take a punch,” said Bagel from behind Razor. “He can take a punch like nobody’s business.”

Razor rubbed her hand along his arm, as if feeling his muscles.

“I think strong guys are very sexy,” she said.

“Um…thanks.”

“Show us.” Kristen’s voice cut through the sound of chatter and the crackling of the bonfire.

“Huh?” said Ed. All eyes were turned on him again.

“Show us how you can take a punch,” said Kristen, walking towards him. She wore that grin again. “Arnaud, come over here. Stand up, Ed.”

Ed stood up. One of the pine cone throwers walked up to him. He was even taller than Bagel. A bigger. Ed thought he might have fit into one of this guy’s pant legs.

“Arnaud is going to punch you in the face,” said Kristen. She ran her finger along Ed’s cheek. “Is that okay?”

Ed shrugged. Kristen’s smile widened.

“Go ahead, Arnaud,” she said. “Punch him as hard as you can.”

“As hard as I can?” Arnaud asked. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” said Kristen.

“Yeah, knock the fuck out of him!” said Razor. She had a hungry look in her eyes.

“Okay,” said Arnaud with a resigned expression. He pulled back his fist, and then slammed into Ed’s face.

Ed took a single step back.

“Damn!” said Razor. “I mean, damn!

After that it was on. Everyone wanted to see what Ed could do. People lined up to hit him. Someone asked him to climb a tree and then fall out of it. Ed didn’t mind. It’s not like it hurt. Finally, someone asked him to see how long he could hold his hand in the fire. After two minutes it was obvious that nothing was going to happen, so he pulled it out.

“Okay, people,” Kristen said. “Ed’s not a captured animal. Let’s leave him alone for a while.”

Razor’s face sank, and Ed hear someone say, “I wanted to kick him in the balls.” But everyone dispersed back to their separate activities. Ed sat down on his log near the fire. He was happy to no longer be the center of attention.

He saw Kristen detach from talking to Razor and walk over to him. Apparently “let’s leave him alone” didn’t apply to her. Not that Ed was complaining. “Move your arms,” she said. He did, and she settled herself into his lap. Ed swallowed heavily. He hoped she didn’t notice what was happening on his lap just an inch below her thighs. But from the wicked look she game him, she knew.

She took his hands between hers and started to rub them.

“They’re like ice,” she exclaimed with delight. “Two minutes in the fire, and they’re like ice.”

“Yeah,” said Ed. “They’re always like that.”

“I want to do something to you, Ed,” Kristen said. “Badly. Can I do something to you?

Ed swallowed again. “Sure.”

“Oh good. I’ve been wanting to try this for months.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a tiny knife. No, not a knife. A sword. It looked like something off the cover of a fantasy novel, only it was only two inches long. She took Ed’s middle finger in her left hand, and placed the edge of the blade up against it. She leaned her head against his face. He could smell her hair. Like cinnamon and candle wax.

Then she pressed the blade into his finger. It was very sharp. She let out a sharp breath as the blade cut cleanly and smoothly right through the flesh. Kristen took Ed’s finger between two of hers, and a second later she pulled the tip right off. She held it up to the firelight and looked at it.

Ed looked down at his middle finger, now missing the tip just above the last knuckle. It didn’t hurt. There wasn’t any blood. He couldn’t even see any bone. The cleanly severed area glistened in the firelight, like a sheet of crystal. Or ice. Then Kristen pressed the severed joint back onto the finger. There was a sizzling sound. A moment later Ed’s finger was back to normal. He flexed it. It felt fine.

“Thanks, Ed,” said Kristen, cooing. “That makes me happy.” She turned to meet his gaze straight on. The bonfire was behind her, but somehow he saw it reflected in her eyes. “Ed, I want something from you. Can I have it?”

“Um…what is it?” asked Ed.

Kristen’s face hardened. “If you don’t want to give it to me, just say so.” She stood up and turned away.

“Wait!” he called. “Yes, yes you can have it.”

She spun slowly back around. “Good,” she said. She walked towards him. Slowly. “Do you know what I want from you, Ed?” She asked. “Do you know what it is that I want?”

“What?”

She put her hand on his shoulder and leaned in. She brought her lips very close to his ear. For a long moment she stood there. He could feel her hot breath tickling his skin. He could hear her breathing in, and smell her rich, warm scent right next to him. His vision blurred. It was like there was nothing else in the world but her. Like everything else melted away.

No. Not melted.

Burned.

“Do you know what I want from you, Ed?” She whispered. Ed tried to speak but it caught in his throat. “Do you know what I want?”

She placed her hand on his chest and said one single additional word. He could hear the smile in her voice. The hunger. It terrified him. It excited him. So much in that one single word.

“Everything.”