A Short Story by Simon Plant
Every year comes the cold dark winter and every year I dread it. Hektor tells me I’m neurotic; my paralyzing fear a hysterical response to something benign, a natural event—should not be feared by rational-thinking humans. “You’re being ridiculous,” he says now as I nail plywood over the windows in our living room. “And ruining the architraves! We’ll have to repaint—again.”
Every year I do the same and every year it drives him mental. But he doesn’t know what it’s like to live with this annual phobia. How it feels to be a man who cowers during a cold snap; crackling of the radiator; pattering of sleet upon windows turning him frail.
Yes dear, I think. We’ll repaint… Painting holds no flame to what I saw in the flurry. Hideous open void. Her eyes like crystals from another realm…
“It’s for the best,” I say, adding—for good measure—another snippet of psychological jargon received from a quack therapist I invented years ago; a professional whose (fabricated) words I now use as diversions to avoid explaining myself properly: “Dr Kershaw said I need to take control of my fear.”
“But Wilt, does control have to be so… destructive?”
“A proactive approach.”
Hektor finishes decorating the Christmas tree while I drill plywood over the windows in the kitchen; I hear him muttering irritably to himself as he props the star on top. Staring in horror at what has become of our home: windows and doors shuttered-over with plywood as if in preparation for a hurricane.
Poor Hektor. He didn’t know when we embarked upon these renovations it would forever be a work in progress; I never warned him of his husband’s manic neurosis. (If neurosis justifies my having once sighted a door to another world.) Christmas should give him cheer, and that should please me. Despite the fact this fixer-upper—which Hektor and I bought with the intention of flipping—is never going to be finished, we are at the very least both loved on Santa’s Eve. Still, his resentment is tangible.
It’s better this way. Better he not know the truth; what I saw twenty years ago…
We sit on the couch together and watch the news. My knee bounces, and Hektor applies a staying hand. I drink my wine quicker than normal, knowing the weather report is next. A chubby woman in a too-short dress speaks of a “bomb cyclone” and I feel my body shrinking into the cushions. Hy hands tremble, wine sloshes precariously.
“Maybe we should watch something else—” Hektor suggests, reaching for the remote.
I stop him with a shrill objection. “No!” My voice cracks. “Better the devil you know, right,” I add with a nervous laugh. A valiant feat of acting, this summoning of humor even as my stomach plummets like a dysfunctional elevator. You think it’s just the snow I hate? If only changing the channel could protect us from Her.
On screen the map is overlain by swooping purple graphics, gradient shades which represent concentrated parts of the coming storm: light lavender the least intense; deep, ruddy burgundy the most. Our house might be somewhere beneath that splotch in the top corner—a warning color not too dissimilar to the wine in my hand. I force myself to breathe.
Hektor, ignoring my agitation, ends the news, starts some carols playing, and climbs to his feet. “Dance with me,” he soothes. Timidly, I do. But cannot keep my body from shaking. I hear it; pitter-patter of ice tapping the glass—just beyond the plywood. It’s begun.
“Who’s she,” says Hektor, stopping mid box-step to study me curiously.
I blink up at him. Didn’t intend to speak out loud.
“The Queen,” I sputter.
He laughs, but gravity in my eyes snuffs his humor like a candle at a birthday party. “Wilt, what are you—”
“Twenty years ago she came…” My ears are ringing. There’s a blizzard on the underside of my eyelids. “Rode in on arctic breeze, slipped through a keyhole, straddling ice like it was her beast.”
“A crack. A soft spot. A doorway.”
Boom! rends the walls of the universe.
Hektor stares in lax comprehension, but my mind is elsewhere…
Poor little boy cowering on his bed as She descends from her void—whatever hellish reality She came from; punched through from a cold dead world where no good deed goes unpunished and where charity is a condemnable offense. Her blue eyes pierce darkness with domineering moon-glow and carry a hunger in them like that of a thousand-year-old famished vampire. Sovereign of misery. Queen of sorrow.
Humoring me—for Hektor knows when I get like this there’s little else to do: “What’d she want?”
“I… I don’t know!”
Yes, you do. It’s you she wants. That night She laid sights on you, promised one day to return. Your very own boogeyman. Stalker. Haunting face of a frozen woman whose domain is a corrupted place where everything pure turns sour like rancid milk. Where good cheer and sanity are sucked and sundered like fingers in a blender.
Cold eyes sparkle as she laughs. “Little boy you will come when I tell you. When you’re old enough. No choice.”
The snow’s heavier now. Wind rattles the rafters and sends groans through the house like creaking bones. Hektor regards me warily, a warden appraising a patient in a psych ward. “A bath might calm your nerves?”
Minutely I nod.
In the warm water I lay, head propped back against the iron tub, feet crossed on the other side, wineglass within reach. I’m grateful. Hektor knows how to allay me, how to make me sane again. Even as the tempest howls I am validated by warmth, love, alcohol.
Pleasures that don’t exist in Her cruel cold world—
Stop. No more. Not real. Something you dreamed when you were young. Part of your phobia. “Forget about Her. Nothing but a night-terror—”
A great resounding crash shakes the house to its foundations. Then Hektor; his scream reaches me over the querulous storm.
“Hektor? Hektor!” No reply. An eerie silence (void) down there now…
I’m out of the tub, wrapped in a town and heading for the stairs. Wet feet scamper down wooden treads. When I reach the living room, I stop. Carols are still playing. Fire crackles in the hearth. And the tree stands tall, decorated in the corner like some sweet confection—picture of joy; but I am filled with dread. No sign of Hektor. And a stinging breeze is puckering my skin in gooseflesh, threatens to freeze the droplets of water on my naked body. I turn to face the kitchen—where chunks of plywood cover the tile floor; flurries of snow blanket bench tops and continue to fall upon scattered slivers of glass.
Something has punched a hole in (reality) the wall like the fist of an angry giant.
I approach the window—what’s left—ignoring the pain of splintered wood and shattered glass underfoot. Steam rises from my body; warmth whipped from me by an arctic breeze cutting in through a cavity left by some destructive passage. Through it, in the night beyond, I perceive nothing. Just whiteout. Snow. Darkness.
But I hear her. Laughing as she retreats to her malevolent world. Ascending back through the trench she dug—new recruit in hand.
“No! The wrong man! You wanted me! Take me!”
But she’s gone.
Twenty years had been the golf of Her absence, time in which I invariably convinced myself of and tore myself away from the notion that I’d made her up completely. But there’s no arguing with proof. Hektor’s missing now. Days have passed and still no sign of him.
The threshold between worlds is shut, and She alone holds the key to unlock it.
Simon Plant is an Aussie expat short writer and dancer who lives in NYC with his husband and cat. When he’s not performing on a stage somewhere, you’ll find him writing something or neurotically watering houseplants (it’s not an addiction…). He grew up in Sydney, Australia before finding his place in the world as a professional ballet dancer. His stories have appeared in anthologies by the following: Red Cape Publishing, Raven and Drake, Not a Pipe, Breaking Rules Europe, Hiraeth, and Black Hare Press. You can learn more about Simon and his writing endeavors at his website: www.simonjplant.com