There is something about the snow here. It may come down softly at first, but it can transform into a full blizzard in little time at all. The last time I’d checked, the snow had been a speck on the horizon. Now the snowflakes looked closer to golf balls.
I glanced back at my computer screen. It had shut down 10 seconds ago with nearly everything else. I don’t know how it happened so fast. These buildings were set up to handle worse weather than this.
Looking around, I surveyed the empty offices. Of course, I’d decided to come in on my day off work. I did that a lot now. I vaguely remembered a different life that wasn’t all about my job. I shouldn’t have come in when snow was expected, but it was too quiet in my apartment, and there was a lot to do here. Well, there had been a lot to do.
I thought that I had more time. I sighed and picked up the phones to call security. There had to be a generator for this place. No dial tone. Great. I switched on the flashlight connected to my phone. There was still light filtering through the windows, but that wouldn’t reach far.
Sluggishly I stood and walked toward the exit. I’d either find someone to help or just go home. Well…if I wasn’t already trapped. The overhead lights flickered then flared back to life just as I passed The Door.
We didn’t go in there. None of us did. Some people said this was where they kept the prototype. All we knew was that we weren’t allowed inside. You needed better clearance than I had.
The lights flickered off again, and it was almost pitch black except for the cold illumination of my flashlight. I was sure it was locked, but curiosity was suddenly stronger than reason. I aimed my phone toward the doorframe, and its harsh blue light made the door seem more sinister than it was.
It was locked anyway. I was sure of it. My fingers tentatively pressed the handle, and it clicked open. I passed my light through the small room. It looked like a closet, but there was a darkness that my flashlight couldn’t penetrate.
This was the moment when you were supposed to leave or be the first to die in a bad horror film. Something tugged at me, though, irresistible. One step inside, and everything changed.
The darkness turned to bright sunshine, and I wasn’t in the closet anymore. I glanced behind me, but the door was gone. Instead, there were vast stretches of field, a lake, and a bare forest.
My breath quickened, and the fear rose, chilling my whole body. Then a real chill fell, and snowflakes began falling all around me. I held out my fingers and felt the cold drops tingling. It tasted like real snow too. The smell of it was in the air, mingling with something else…wood smoke.
I turned my head and saw the smoke puffing steadily from a small cabin in the distance. They’d have a phone, I was sure of it. However, as I got closer, the cabin looked more familiar, and my heart plummeted with the cold. I’d told myself I’d never come back.
Then I saw her. Alice. She stood on the porch, holding my heart, and I knew there was no phone. There was no electricity. There was just a wood stove, soft hands, and eyes that could melt chocolate with their warmth.
She waved at me, and I started sobbing as though I wasn’t standing in snowdrifts up to my knees now. I rushed toward her, and even when she was in my arms, I couldn’t make sense of such boundless joy and sorrow wrapped into one.
“Of course, I am, sweetheart.” My heart was cracking, and I cried like I might never stop. When I finally calmed down, she took my hand and led me inside.
“Why’d you go outside, wearing that? Go change. I’ve been waiting to go sledding all day.”
I blinked, and a host of memories filled me in the quiet. I ran to change, but as I walked into our bedroom, I found myself outside again, although more suitably dressed.
“Come on.” Alice laughed, and its strange, beautiful music filled my whole chest.
As we loaded into the toboggan, her hands around my chest brought that familiar flip that I hadn’t felt in years. Even as we careened down the steep hill, the adrenaline was no match for that. As we stood unsteadily, I kissed her, and she laughed, clearly delighted.
I noticed the way her button nose was bright pink, and her eyes sparkled brightly like they had before she got sick. I was caught off guard when my arm jerked, and she pulled me up the hill.
I knew that I would sled all day if she asked me, and we almost did. When we finally headed inside, my toes felt frozen, and I was sure that hers did too. Her fingers and toes always got cold sooner than mine.
My fingers burned as we entered the warm cabin. We stripped off our coats and boots and hung them by the stove. Bits of ice turned to water and water to steam. Alice placed a mug in my hand before I knew what was happening. She’d always been that way, taking care of others before she took care of herself.
I knew before tasting that it was her home-brewed hot cider. The cinnamon filled the air, coating everything with sugar like it coated my tongue. I drank the cider, and my eyes drank her.
I tried not to think about when she passed, and I had passed along with her. I wasn’t ready to die again. I wanted to live today. I would worry about the consequences later.
At one point in the afternoon, I noticed her ice skates. Before, I’d never wanted to skate with her, and she was always asking. Now there was nothing I wanted more. I held up her skates. “Well?”
“Yes. Finally,” Alice squealed and kissed me fiercely. We twirled around for a second before she set to work on the laces. There was a pair beside my feet suddenly, though I was sure they hadn’t been there before. I didn’t care.
I looked up, and suddenly we were beside the cold frozen lake. Alice took my hands, leading me onto its still surface. Tentatively I stepped onto the slippery ice and predictably tripped over my own feet. But she caught me, and I marveled at how lovely it was to be out of control if she had it.
I didn’t improve, but after a time, we whirled together, her propelling us forward and me trying not to get underfoot. Sometimes it’s okay to just not get in the way.
As we spun around, I noticed the snow starting to fall again and snowdrifts gathering like memories in my mind, like echoes of reality. I wasn’t ready for the echoes to end. I wanted to let the memories crop up until I was buried beneath them.
But the evening was quickly falling, and I was a bit afraid that the dream would too. So I held Alice tighter, breathing in her scent and reveling in the cold of my nose against her neck.
We finally walked back to the cabin, stumbling, frozen, and happy. I hated the cold, but here with Alice, it was the most precious feeling in the world. But so was the heat as we walked into the warm cabin.
So were the warm blankets as we got ready for bed. So was Alice’s skin as we held each other tightly beneath the quilts. Throughout the night, I was unable to discern what was memory and what was a fresh experience. It was some strange amalgamation that was as good as any reality I’d ever had. I didn’t know if I’d ever been this present before, this desperate to experience everything.
As we fell asleep, I heard an owl hoot and the brush of branches against the windows. I noticed how hot Alice’s skin felt beneath mine. My legs wrapped around hers, like roots beneath the earth, like a poem about a snowy night. I almost laughed, but I didn’t want to wake her.
Eventually, I fell asleep too.
When I woke on the floor of the bare closet, it was like being ripped from the world and plucked in a cold approximation of life. I desperately wanted to wake whatever lived inside this room and go back to Alice, but something whispered to leave before I was caught.
I’d barely stepped into the hall and closed the door when the system restarted. I didn’t stay longer than it took to grab my stuff.
As I hit the elevator, the pain moved through me in waves. Years of built-up grief, snowdrifts of pain, echoes reverberating through my body. I pulled myself together as I crossed the lobby, but it was like trying to hold back a furious storm.
When I stepped outside, the snow had miraculously stopped, and all that remained was a thick quiet. Once in my car, I slammed the door hard, screaming loud enough to scare any passersby. I roared again, a roiling gale of anger and regret. Then I glanced at my dashboard.
Only a couple of minutes had passed since I’d gone in the room. It almost shocked me out of my fury. I drove home in silence until I felt a tug, like the one by The Door. There was somewhere I needed to go first. I didn’t want to, but I knew that I needed it. I can’t tell you why.
What might have been minutes or an hour later, I sat beside a cold ice rink. At first, my fingers fumbled with the laces, then I could have sworn I felt Alice’s fingers on mine. A calm swept through me in waves, quieting the pain.
I finished lacing up the skates and paused momentarily. I swear I felt Alice squeeze my hand, and then I stepped alone onto the rink’s frozen surface.