Cold (Challenge #1)

First up is a submission from Jamie of Mostly Short Stories. This a wonderfully eerie short story, but will be placed under a ‘read more’ tag because of its length. It does not contain mature themes.

This wasn’t the standard kind of cold. Not the kind when shivers run down your back and goose bumps pop up on your arms. Not the kind when red tingles noses and cheeks as chilly wind kisses it. Not the kind when all the muscles stiffen from an icy shock of cold water.

This cold was the kind that turned fingers black and blue and brittle. This cold was the blistering kind that burned faces and slapped at skin, whiplashing it with full force. This cold was the kind that sunk into the bone, deep and aching in the core. This cold was the kind that hurt.

Duma wanted nothing more than to go home. The dreary, freezing forest felt dark and hopeless and cold. He just wanted warmth, anything other than this cold.

But he didn’t let his feet stop the slow, monotonous march, forcing his numb legs to continue one step after another. He knew his body temperature would plummet if he stopped.

His stomach growled, pawing at the inside of his stomach. The hunger wasn’t difficult to manage. It was the cold that drove him crazy.

It could’ve been minutes, or hours, later when Duma felt the dark depression settling in, slowing his feet, chiseling away his willpower. He wanted to stop, to just give up. He wanted the end.

Staring ahead, only dark trees and gray blurs swam in his vision, the sound of snow crunching underneath his boots, accompanying his thoughts. Pssht, pssht, pssht, pssht.

He couldn’t give up. He couldn’t leave his family. His mother’s warm smiles, his brother’s childish and blunt comments, his sister’s naïve innocence and sweet heart. As he remembered Mac’s constant questioning and Lia’s curious observations on everything, a smile tugged at his lips. But the movement in his cheeks stung like needles and Duma quickly stopped.

A few tears escaped his eyes and crawled down his cheeks, warming them until they froze to his skin.

The pain jolted some feeling back into his body and he continued his march. He needed to see his family again.

But eventually, even the memories lost is vibrancy and color and energy, bleached away into a hazy gray and Duma stopped.

His frozen feet stumbled another few steps before his legs gave away. Clawing at the rough bark of the evergreen tree he could barely feel through his numb fingers, Duma tried to force himself up, conjuring memories of his family. But the images were flat and dull, devoid of warmth.

He was getting colder and colder, the chill seeping beyond his skin, settling on his bones. Everything around him seemed more distant, unrealistic, almost hazy.

Duma laid his head down on the snow, his scalp barely aware of the scalding cold. Closing his eyes, he cried one last time. A quiet Thank you lingered on his lips.

“Dr. Martin, the subject is suffering intense hypothermia in Controlled Lab 2, the one testing the effects of extreme winter on said subject. His heart is dropping dangerously low to—oh, there it goes.”

“What a pity.” The emotionless speaker was a tall woman with a haughty face. She crossed her long arms across her chest and started to pace slowly. Her high heels clicked rhythmically. “I suppose the same thing went wrong like it did with the others. The human body is just so weak.” She scoffed arrogantly. “Do we have a sample that can speed up metabolism to generate more heat energy?”

“Dr. Martin, increasing the metabolism is useless with the subject’s state of malnutrition. We’ve already tried that before with Subject 12. The subject died in less than twenty-four hours—“

“Did you hear me correctly?” Dr. Martin’s voice was calm, but chilled with an intense harsh edge. “I asked, do we have another sample?”

The assistant cowered slightly, turning away and mumbling, “Yes, ma’am. The lab will start the preparation now.”

Dr. Martin looked satisfied. “Good. Run the trail on Subject…what number are we on now?”

“78, ma’am,” the assistant answered softly.

“77 failures. Perhaps 78 will be lucky.”

“Perhaps,” the assistant echoed.

Dr. Martin looked at him with cold eyes. “Frank, the human population will thank me for this. Fighting the cold is just the first step. Later, with more trials and advances, we’ll have a drug that gives you invincibility to forces of nature.” She sounded more animated, gesturing with her hands as she continued to pace. “Imagine that, Frank. A drug that could keep you from dying. Not of cold, of heat, of illness! Imagine a drug that could cheat death.”

Frank disagreed, but he wanted to keep his job. He listened to Dr. Martin continue. “Trust me, Frank, a few sacrifices won’t matter if I can save the whole human race. And the human race will thank me for this, this gift that I am giving to them.”

“They can’t thank you if you kill them all with your trials,” Frank muttered bitterly under his breath. Already 77 people were dead and there was no sign of improvement. But Dr. Martin’s powerful connection kept the funding alive, millions poring in with each drug manufactured.

“I do believe you have forgotten my power over your career.” The cold, hard Dr. Martin was back, her harsh tone cutting through the air. “I wonder what your family will do without that meager amount of money you call a salary. Now test that new sample.”

Frank swallowed. “Yes, ma’am.” Leaning into a speaker, he forced out of his dry throat, “Prepare Subject 78 for a new trial.”

When Nate woke up, he was in the middle of a dark forest and his body was beyond freezing. His teeth were chattering so hard, he felt as if he might accidentally bite his tongue in half.

The wind rattled fiercely, slicing through his clothes, burning his skin. Nate dragged his already tired feet across the snow, leaving behind a trail of compressed snow.

Nate glanced at the dark trees around him and they seemed to tower over his head menacingly. He forced himself to continue, trying not to let the truth of the situation settle in.

He forced one foot after another, concentrating on each step. Pssht, pssht, pssht, pssht.


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