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Cold and Quiet
Sitting in your room feels like a punishment. It is late, much later than you would like it to be, and all motivation to do anything except stare at your laptop screen has left your body along with the passing minutes. You stare blankly at the chat room you are a part of, having nothing to say as the conversation you were a part of abruptly drops off. You watch the cursor on your screen blink idly; you have nothing else to do now that all of your friends have either gone to bed or have become bored with your conversation. The room is brightly lit, but everything feels dark. You hate it.
You tear your eyes away from the too bright screen and stare at your half-heartedly decorated walls and dirty floor. You scrub your eyes, groaning as you rest the heels of your palms on the hollows of your eyes, stretching out your back as you do this. You shouldn’t be here. You want to leave. You don’t know why, but something about sitting on your bed in the dead silence of your home is making everything around you feel like a threat.
As you sit there, you feel as though something is watching you. Paranoia compels your eyes to dart to the side, to the left to be exact, anxious thoughts seeping into your mind like water does into a sponge. The culprit of your suspicions sits on the shelf next to you; a cheap children’s toy sits against the backing of the shelf, a wide toothy grin adorning the rubber ball. It stares endlessly. You numbly reach to the side and brush your fingers against it, memories of the smiling face and laughter of a person who you wish you could call a distant memory fill your head.
You know what is coming next, having done this a hundred times before.
You spin the ball idly, watching the dumb grin and wide eyes being replaced with the same cartoonish face stuck in a frown. Something about it gives it a foreboding aura even though it is only a toy. You feel your cat twitch next to you. You spin it a bit faster, memories appearing and overlapping each other as quickly as the ball turns.
The sound of rubber hitting the linoleum floor. The slight sting of a ball landing in your fingers after a successful throw. An appreciative laugh. A bitter sob.
A flash of white teeth accompanying a joke. The screeching of tires. A warm hand on your shoulder. Pain in your head. A friendly shove. The hard jerk of polyester against your chest.
Soft music. The blaring of an ambulance. The discomfort of a pinch. The searing pain of a gash.
You jolt out of this trance when your power suddenly shuts off. A profound sense of dread fills your stomach as your pupils struggle to adjust to the new lighting.
Your laptop is the only light in the room. The darkness that surrounds you makes you want to vomit, the unknown scaring you senseless. You habitually stay as still as possible, even holding your breath to avoid moving as though your life depended on it. The complete deafening silence consumes you, not even the dull hum of your heater being able to fill the void the power outage has created. The light generated by your laptop shines onto your face and chest, only makes you feel more vulnerable than you would in complete darkness.
Your eyes scope out your dimly lit surroundings, nothing alarming in your range of sight. You allow yourself to make small movements, limited to a limb at a time at the most. Slowly, fearfully, you pull your hair out of your eyes and squint into the darkness, remaining unconvinced that nothing is there or that you’re acting irrationally. You shift your other hand and finally remember the ball resting underneath it, pressing against the dark wood of the shelf. It sits patiently. Waiting, watching. Even though the laptop only gives off a limited range of light, you can still see its expression, and no matter what angle you tilt it at it never ceases to be disturbing. Your cat shifts next to you, rolling onto her back.
With a sigh you begrudgingly close your laptop, your hand somehow shaking more than your breath. Saving your battery would be the wisest thing to do: you never know when your power may return, and no amount of mindless games or soft music could soothe your nerves at this point. The darkness completely engulfs you. You grip the ball tightly, your nails digging into the thick, cheap rubber.
You say you’re sorry with your head tilted downwards slightly as if you were talking to the ball. You say it again, this time louder because you are sorry. You really are. You still don’t know if all of this is your fault or not, but you are so, so sorry regardless.
You feel your cat shift again, but this time she stands. Your heart sinks when you feel her begin to walk away from you. Your head spins as you try to reach for her, but she’s too far away to reach now without moving You try to move, but it feels as though your laptop is pressing down against you and your limbs feeling like lead. You’re unable to speak even though you desperately want to call for her to return. Soundlessly, she jumps off your bed, and suddenly you’re completely alone.
But only for a moment.
Despite the warm spot your cat had left behind and the heat from your previously humming laptop, everything becomes cold. Freezing, even. The cold wouldn’t be unusual if the power went out hours ago, not minutes ago. Panic settles in your gut as your ears begin to ring. The ball, ironically, is your only saving grace; it is the only thing that feels real now.
You feel a presence in your room. Something much larger and much more sinister than your cat. You tense even further and hold your breath, fear turning into terror.
Before you can even try to fool yourself into thinking that whoever--or whatever--the heck is in your room is a family member, you remember that you had locked your door after dinner and had not left the room since. This cognizance only deepens your sense of dread, realizing that this thing has been in your room with you for hours. Upon this realization, a wave of confusion immediately washes over you; you have not heard any movement that you could not explain since the power went out. How could this thing be in your room now without you hearing it?
The almost relieving confusion leaves as quickly as it arrives, and you’re only left with the realization that you’re growing colder, and the presence in your room is drawing closer. Or at least you think it is. The only indicator that you have is temperature and your paranoia, and the latter of the two is never trustable.
For some reason, you trust it now.
The closer it gets, the more your anxiety rises. Paralyzing terror is replaced by blind panic, and you try to scream. No noise comes out. Your jaw doesn’t budge. Oddly enough, you are frozen in place, but you have a sinking feeling it has nothing to do with the air temperature.
Something is on your bed. Something icy, something menacing. It creeps closer, settles next to you, and stills. You can’t remember the last time you took a breath.
Suddenly you feel something on your cheek, something so cold that it burns, and a numbing pain spreads quickly to the rest of your body
You start to remember.
You and them are walking away from the shopping center near your house. You hold the dual-faced ball in your hands, bouncing it against the scalding pavement as you two walk to your car. The day was hot, hotter than it had ever been but the grueling weather was worth the weight of school finally being off both of your shoulders for the next three months.
“You didn’t have to buy that.”
“I know, but it’s so stupid looking that I just had to, you know?”
“No, I don’t. It is pretty silly looking, though. Where are you gonna put it?”
“I dunno, somewhere in my room.” You nudge them, “It’ll be a token of our friendship.”
“Oh, how thoughtful, a trashy plastic ball shoved in your closet is the thing you’ll remember our friendship by.”
“Jeez, I can taste your sarcasm. Lighten up a little.”
You unlock your car, and they join you inside, their seat belt locked firmly in place before you even have a chance to turn on the engine. You crank up the air conditioning and put your car into reverse, tossing the aux cord out of the way and into their lap.
“Pick something that isn’t crap this time,” you tease.
You can almost hear them roll their eyes as they choose a soft, wordless tune. It’s the main theme of one of your favorite video games. You smirk, “Good choice.”
The car ride continues as usual. Jokes are exchanged, plans to meet again are made, and parents are called with the promise of a safe arrival home.
And that’s when it happens.
Another car slams into you while you’re crossing the intersection about five minutes away from their house, right against the passenger side door. Of course, you don’t really remember the last part; all you can remember is the sharpness of the jolt the impact created, the ringing in your ears once the car stopped tumbling, and the heat of their limp body on yours as you faded in and out of consciousness. You remember the screeching of metal, the yelling of various people, the feeling of blood draining from your head, the pounding in your head growing as the ambulance arrived. But most of all, you remember the sound of wheezing breath that didn’t belong to you.
After that, everything is darkness until you wake up in the hospital with a cast on your leg, stitches in your head and on your torso and an IV stuck in your arm. Your family was overjoyed to see your open your eyes, and so was theirs. They didn’t make it. According to the doctors, they died before they could receive any treatment, having broken several ribs which punctured their lungs and having received several other injuries similar to yours. They had an extremely low chance of surviving if any chance at all, even if they hadn’t suffocated during the ambulance ride.
One of the nurses held up the ball, which you remember you had handed to your passenger before you had started driving. It had miraculously survived undamaged, save for a few scuff marks and it was one of the only things to be salvaged from the accident excluding both of your schoolbags, a bent umbrella, a rain-damaged map and a pair of jumper cables which were all in the trunk of the car. The ball had shot out the window when the car was hit, according to a few witnesses, and a young lady retrieved it and gave it to the police when they were retrieving the other items from the car. She was also, apparently, one of the first people to call 911. You never met her, but you wish you could thank her for what she did.
A full recovery was made by you, which included several months of physical and mental therapy. It ruined your whole summer. The school held a memorial ceremony the first week of school. You didn’t attend it; you hid in the bathrooms the whole time to keep yourself from crying any more than you already had over the whole ordeal.
Life continued as normal. You attended school, hung out with friends, you even got a job. A part-time one at a hell hole of an establishment, but it was better than nothing. Everything continued as normal, but that day haunted you everywhere you went, even years later. No amount of therapy, prescribed or non-prescribed drugs, video games or social interactions could make the thoughts stop.
You are suddenly aware that you can’t feel anything around you. You can’t feel anything anymore. Your bed has become nothing, although you’re still sitting like something is beneath you. At least, you think you are. The darkness is truly consuming you now, making you feel as though everything including your body is now nonexistent.
You wail, but you hear nothing. You feel nothing.
Except the cold.
The suffocating, oppressive, frozen hand that has a death grip on your soul.
Something angry has a hold of you, and you’re scared. Pain flashes through your neck, your chest, your legs. Icy fire shoots through you
You scream and sob, you say how sorry you are, how you miss them, how you would give anything to save them. You yell this into the void soundlessly, and you expect no response.
But you get one.
The shocks lessen, the endless void surrounding you seems to give way to something real the more you speak, as if whatever has seized your soul is hearing your pleads for mercy.
You continue talking, and you’re almost unaware that you’re still talking about them. Your mind is on what you can only call autopilot, fear pushing words out of your mouth. The pain never stops, but it lessens the more you speak. You’re unsure if you are truly making noise, but you barely care.
Suddenly, you hear your own voice scream an apology, you feel the solidness of your bed beneath you, you feel the smoothness of the ball in your hands. You gasp for breath, wheezing as your drop the ball onto the top of your laptop and grip your shirt tightly. It rolls off your laptop and onto the bed in front of you.
The freezing cold has not gone away, but you feel it slowly drain away from most of your body. Something icy still rests on your cheek, but you recognize the shape; a hand.
The form of a person sits next to you, radiating cold instead of heat. The forearm of the hand on your cheek presses against you as you sit still with baited breath. You keep your eyes shut tight, fearing what you might see if you open them.
The hand slides onto your other cheek, and you feel something else press against your other cheek, accompanied by a familiar scent and three soft words spoken in a familiar voice.
“I forgive you.”
Your eyes fly open in recognition and your power abruptly flashes back on, your room bursting back to life. It’s so difficult to breathe; it feels like your sides have been crushed. Despite this, you let out a choked bit of laughter and dig your fingers into the closest bits of fabric they can reach, one digging into your skin through your shirt while the other grabs onto your sheets. You’re trembling, and when you reach up to touch your cheek your skin is icy to the touch. Your fingers feel wet as well. You had forgotten you were crying: it feels like you had started crying enos ago.
You rest your hand on your cheek as you take deep breaths, your cat making a reappearance at your side and scaring the daylights out of you. You laugh again, the sound being pathetic as you are still crying. You pet her, and she chirps happily, her paws pressing against your thigh as you scratch under her chin. You slide your laptop off of your lap and replace it with your cat, soft fur wiping the tears from your cheek when she rubs against you.
You try to wrap your head around what had just happened while your cat shoves her wet nose against your cheek, coming to a conclusion that you do not understand. You work your tongue in your mouth and swallow after a few moments, gently pushing your cat off your lap and keeping her away despite her fighting to comfort you more. She eventually gives up with a frustrated flick of her tail and jumps off your bed and pads away in favor of your desk chair. You realize that could have been where she went during whatever had just happened.
You shake your head a bit and move onto doing what you had originally planned to do; check under your shirt. You lift up your shirt and gasp in surprise, the beginning of deep, dark bruises decorating the skin surrounding your ribs. No wonder you were, and still are, in so much pain. You can barely comprehend what you can only call evidence of what had just happened, pain seizing you every time you take a breath. You drop your shirt and lean against the pillow resting against your wall, rubbing your eyes. After a bit of silence and labored breathing, you decide to go to bed and leave this problem for tomorrow. You are too exhausted to deal with this situation right now. Despite the fact that you were shivering and aching, you felt a strange calm settling over you. Maybe it was your body numbing itself from the pain, or some sort of comfort coming from what has caused your bruising. You flinch when you shift a bit, and you get the feeling it's being caused by the former of the two. You know you recognized that voice--you know you did--but that was impossible.
God, you don’t know anymore.You sigh in frustration and fall to your side, gently pushing your laptop aside with your foot as you settled into the most comfortable position you could find. You thought of turning off the lights, and you hesitantly clapped your hands, flinching at the sound as your lights flicked off. You always thought that function on your lamp was stupid, but you had to admit it did come in handy sometimes. More often than you would like to admit.
The darkness brings a finality on your decision to sleep; you were thankful that your exhaustion prevents even more thoughts from swarming your mind. You take a deep breath and close your eyes, sleep thankfully blurring your thoughts quickly.
However, just before you fully lose consciousness, something cool takes up space behind you on the bed. It isn’t a malevolent cold, and it never touches you, but it is most definitely there. You take an odd comfort in it and sleep soundly despite not understanding what it is.
When you wake up, it’s gone.