By Guest Contributor
C HILLY NIGHTS
By Peter Timony
When Owen and Janet Hatfield moved to America, they had high hopes for the future in the land of opportunity. They moved to Boston in 1730, bringing with them a boat-load of old furniture and paintings and such from their London home.
Owen Hatfield bought his big house hoping some day to fill it with his offspring. He could just hear the footsteps of little feet running down his wide hallways. The house was so big, his wife, Janet, took to calling it “Hatfield Manor”.
That was before Janet perished.
She didn’t just die, she perished. Like a plucked tomato in sunlight, she rotted on her deathbed for weeks, a victim of a cancer with a voracious appetite. She suffered and she suffered, and then she perished.
Afterwards, Owen was cursed by an enormous house, which only he occupied. Every square inch was full of nobody. Owen had never known such loneliness, such solitude. Every room was built for people, but where were those people now?
A madness seemed to creep up on him, as he sat in a chair in his living room, looking about at his furniture, thinking of Janet. She had insisted on bringing most of it from London, despite the high cost of shipping. He stood up and examined an ottoman. Janet was gone, her ottoman remained. In the study, her writing desk was cluttered with papers. There was a letter half written to her mother, in which she tried to describe her illness. Owen read it with tears in his eyes.
Owen went to his bedroom. It would not be his first night in the house alone, but it never seemed to get easier. He blew out the little flame in his kerosene lamp and sat with his eyes open in the darkness.
He could still smell her hair on the pillow, he could still feel the depression on the bed where she slept. Owen had to fight back the urge to reach over and feel for her, just in case she was still there… he didn’t know if he could handle the overwhelming joy of finding his beautiful Janet in his arms, or the absolute horror of finding a cold dead body lying next to him.
As if in answer to this last thought, the temperature in his room suddenly dropped a few degrees. Owen shivered. He looked to the door, which, to his dismay, he discovered was wide open.
“I should have closed the door,” he whispered into his covers. He didn’t know why, but the sight of the hallway scared him,
Perhaps it was the fact that he had no idea what was going on in the hallway, even though his rational mind told him there was nothing. But if something was going on, he would rather have a slobbering beast attack him and rip his head off than watch it walk casually past his door.
Again, the temperature dropped. Something was out there and Owen couldn’t see very well in the darkness, but he was sure he’d see something. He suddenly felt the urge to get up and slam the door.
But of course he didn’t, and now, as he shivered in the unnaturally cold darkness, he knew something was out in the hall, and his hair stood on end and goose bumps covered his body.
From down the hall to the left, there was a strange illumination. A white glow, like limelight, drifting down the hall, towards his bedroom.
Owen ducked under his covers, but couldn’t bring himself to pull the covers over his eyes. They were glued to the doorway, intent upon seeing something, he knew not what, but was sure it would kill him (or at the very least turn his hair white).
It was now so cold in his bedroom, Owen could see his breath, even in the darkness. The thing in the hallway still approached. Slowly, he heard footsteps. Time crawled so cruelly, Owen wanted to yell at the thing to hurry up.
Then Owen saw a glowing white toe, followed by a long white leg, followed by a glowing…
“Janet!” Owen cried.
Indeed, it was she. Janet stood in the hallway, illuminating everything around her, and even behind her, because even though Owen could see her clearly, he could also see the wall behind her. Janet’s ghostly robes billowed around here beautifully, propelled by a breeze from beyond. Her cheeks were full, and her eyes were bright and not sunken-in, the way they were on her deathbed. In fact, she looked as beautiful as the day he met her, years before the hideous cancer would ravage her body.
If Owen had gulped just then, he would have swallowed his heart.
“Janet,” Owen said again.
Janet whispered ghostly words that fell on his ears like a gentle puff of air from her dead lips.
“Yes I’m ready for you,” Owen answered.
Janet shook her head in an eerily slow manner, as if she was underwater. Again, her words drifted airily through the frigid space between them, but his ears picked up the sound with a supernatural ease.
“Please, Janet, I can take the cold. I’ve missed you so much, I love you Janet!”
Janet’s mouth moved again, and words that shouldn’t be drifted to Owen from lips that shouldn’t be.
“I will, Janet, I’ll build my tolerance levels.”
Janet floated away, taking her ghost light with her. Again, Owen was enveloped in darkness, and immediately, the room was warmer.
Owen shivered still. At least she still loved him, even after death. She said as much.
The next morning, Owen filled his tub with cold water and lowered himself into it slowly. Oh, it was agony! But he had to build his tolerance, for Janet.
After a while, the water didn’t feel so bad. That was good. That was a start.
Owen then did something unusual. He opened his ice box and took a pick to the block inside, chipping large chunks off it. These he wrapped lightly in linens and tied to his body. It was so cold! Owen ran around, trying to escape the frozen torture, but it followed him everywhere.
But again, he began to tolerate it. At least he’d resisted the urge to tear the ice off his body. That was good, that was a start. He could begin to like the cold, even love it. He was sure of it.
That night, before he went to bed, he put out a sign for the ice man, which read simply, “Ice Today”.
Again the darkness covered him. Again, he stared at the hallway outside his door, only this time, he left the door wide open on purpose.
“I’m waiting, Janet,” he whispered,
Owen felt a shiver of excitement when he shivered from the cold. The temperature was dropping!
Owen stared eagerly out the door even as his room got colder. He was waiting, he was waiting…
Then he saw the glow. It got stronger as it got closer.
“Janet!” Owen cried.
Janet approached with the same agonizing slowness as the night before. He could just see her legs moving, though her feet floated an inch from the floor.
And then he saw her for real as her bright white body came to the door and faced him.
When she spoke, Owen was ready with his answer. “Yes, Janet, I spent all day preparing for you!”
Janet seemed reluctant, and her doubts were made clear to Owen.
“Yes, I’m sure! Please Janet, I’ve missed you so much!”
Janet entered the bedroom, and the temperature dropped drastically. Owen held his breath as the wave of cold hit him…but it passed, sort of. He could deal with this. He could become tolerant.
Janet leaned closer to him, her beautiful ghostly face mere inches from him. Owen’s teeth began to chatter. He saw a look of concern cross her face.
“No, Janet, I’m all right. J-just a little c-c-cold.”
Janet smiled (so beautiful!) and leaned over to kiss him. Her ghostly lips pressed lightly on his forehead, and an ice pick seemed to jam itself into his brain. The pain was unbelievable, and Owen screamed.
His scream frightened Janet, and she fled. Owen was immediately sorry.
In the morning, Owen could see where she kissed him, because his skin was gray there. I looked like a weird gray hickey on his forehead. A frost-bite love-bite.
Owen filled his tub with cold water and ice that day and sat in it for a long time. He wouldn’t scare Janet away again, no way.
After he got out of the tub, he cranked opened up all the windows and let the cold January air in, and then walked around naked. For added measure, he taped the ice bags to his body. He suffered for his efforts with a stuffy nose and a loud cough, but it would be worth it, if he could just hold his wife at night, the way he used to when she lived.
At night, Owen’s heart pounded as he awaited the arrival of his loved one. He hoped and prayed that he hadn’t scared her away for good the night before. He felt the numb spot on his forehead. It was still there, a gray dead spot in the shape of two lovely lips.
A chilly wind blew past his bed, and Owen sat up. Was it she?
It got noticeably colder, and Owen knew that Janet was coming. Already, her ghostly luminescence made the hallway glow as she slowly paced toward his (their) bedroom.
Owen was ready for her this time, and when the temperature in the room continued to drop, he barely shivered. All he could care about now was Janet. She was coming, and tonight, it would be like when she lived.
“Janet!” Owen called before he could even see her, “I’m ready for you tonight!”
Janet’s shape appeared at the doorway like before, and her approval of Owen’s commitment was evident. She drifted into the room, and the light of her soul fell on his face. Owen lifted the covers to let her in, but with a wave of her hand, they flew away and landed in a pile on the floor.
“If that’s the way you want it, honey,” Owen whispered.
Janet crawled into bed in slow motion. Owen felt the sheet beneath him get crisp with cold. She placed her arm across his chest and he had to bite his lip (which was already chapped and bleeding) to keep from screaming again, as her frozen dead touch sunk into him and chilled the marrow in his ribs.
But Owen could bear it, tonight he would be with his wife. Her ghostly robes dissolved into the mists, and he beheld her in all her glory. For the love of this woman, he would suffer any amount of cold, even if she were dead.
And then she was on top of him, kissing him, and leaving dead frozen flesh in her wake. Owen kissed back, even after his lips had become so numb, he was no longer sure they were still on his face.
The cold had engulfed him completely, and maybe he realized too late that dead souls and living flesh were never meant to be. His heart tried twice in vain to churn the slush that his blood had become, then shuddered and stopped.
When they found Owen’s frozen body, his arms were stiff in an empty embrace, and ice kept his erection hard.
When Owen’s body was lowered into the ground, those who knew him wept. They had no way of knowing that at the moment of Owen’s death, he had felt the most pleasant warmth imaginable, and his soul reached out and touched the soul of his wife, and at that moment, the two of them were still generating a heat that would freeze any mortal to the bone.
Image by Bobby Timony
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