The snow had settled soft on the ground but by noon it’d frozen over so that it crunched with every step I took. Clouds blocked out the sun while they blew around at the mercy of the wind, like glitter in one of those little plastic globes. I swear if I’d have cried my eyes would have sealed shut forever. I’d been walking for almost two hours; straight through the woods to nowhere in what the clouds had made a perpetual darkness. An icy crust had formed around my boots and my lips were chapped white as the earth, nearly peeling off with the breeze. I was well-covered, layered twice over with clothing on each inch of my body, aside from my reddening face. Eventually, I gave into the weight of it all, plopped over under a mighty pine and hunched my arms and legs together to keep warm.
Christmas was tomorrow. The neighborhood had been draped in red and green and the Christ child was sleeping peacefully in every fourth yard or so. The cold sent my thoughts back to Georgia, where it’d been nothing like this at all. That’s why when my dad retired he hauled us up here to Spokane, where we could finally have a nice white Christmas. Just how it should be, so all his meticulous planning and cooking and light-stringing wouldn’t be spoiled by the taunts of an unholy atmosphere. But he’d since moved to Seattle, and my mom didn’t care too much what color it was outside. She was just mad that he’d gone and Christmas was up to her, that I was up to her. Her frustration had begun to eat away at what I thought was an invincible mindset , the childlike awe of Christmas spirit. Her yelling, her complaints, her requests for help and her threats of withholding gifts if I refused, I held no intention of dealing with it all during the best of seasons. So, long before she knew I’d woken up, I left, and climbed the icy asphalt hills up past the newest construction site to freeze myself in the wild for a few hours.
White flakes fell from above and blew into my face. I guarded my eyes and aimed them at the branch they came from, where a squirrel had just slipped out and half-thudded on the hard snow. He shivered as he ran, panicked and freezing, scurrying away to be swallowed by fog. His brown body was speckled with white, just like everything else in view, and it would’ve looked beautiful if he didn’t seem so miserably cold and hungry. Only the trees seemed comfortable, green and tall as they’d always been, proudly giving shelter to all the out of place summer creatures that walked among them. I admired the evergreens, they looked immortal.
A lone bird stood squawking atop one of the pines, bobbing his head back and forth across the wood. He let out a pathetic succession of “twah’s!”, like he was calling out “over here!” to some bird friend of his. I chuckled at his desperation. He had wings and feet and two good eyes, but all he did was sit there and call out to some hoppy brown companion of his that’d probably drowned in the white by now. Dumb little thing. Regardless of his ability to fly, his high-pitched moan continued on and on, until I scared him with a well-placed rock at the heart of the tree. Fluttering away, he mocked me with one last “twah!” and glided reluctantly through the forest. He’d likely freeze that night, I thought, if not prey to an owl or a hawk by then, but at least he’d be midair when he finally went.
The clouds shone a darker gray than before. I figured I’d best head home before I froze or fell prey to a coyote and had to answer to the laughter of that insolent little bird’s ghost. “Twah-twah! You idiot, think you’re so clever with your lil’ rocks, chucking ‘em at nature when it don’t suit your comfort? Pompous little brat, look where you are now, not so bright, are we, or warm for that matter? Twah, twah!” Dumb, cockney little thing. I decided to survive, just to avoid ever hearing that annoying squawk again, stood up and followed a path of crunchy, backwards footsteps that led to the neighborhood.
The nervous little squirrel from earlier had found his way across my path at the very edge of the road. He stood there looking up at me with puffy, nut-filled cheeks. To his left was a chubby little female, paying no attention to the creampuff of plastic winter wear that towered above her. She just kept driving her nose into the ground and piling up shiny gold walnuts behind her, all stacked neatly by her counterpart. The male kept staring at me until his girl looked up, and at once they took up their abundance and bolted off to hide wherever it is that squirrels do. Cagey little things, clever like that. They were scared and weak and unimportant, just like that stupid bird, but they knew it took more than just standing there to get on with it. I laughed for the last time that day and continued home.
As I tried sleeping that stupid bird flew around in my head. My thoughts began to feel dissonant… tense and numb and eased almost simultaneously. Words rose from my chest and teetered on the edge of my lips, but I kept them shut, chewed the words up like mush and sucked them down my throat. I felt like that brown, speckled-white creature, standing on the top of the tallest tree I could, just bobbing my head left and right while I froze to death. But unlike him, at least I was keeping nice and quiet. Dumb little thing.
When I woke up, I’d forgotten what day it was. I nearly headed out for the wood again.
The original, actual piece entitled “Cold”, the other is merely an edited work shortened for the sake of entry into contests. I find this one to be infinitely better, though the other one seems to convey something very different and has its purpose as well… tell me what you think.