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The Cold Man
Snow crunched under the tires of the car as it drove down the dirt road, deeper and deeper into the woods. Arthur had promised his daughter that it wouldn’t be much farther to the cabin, yet it had already been almost an hour since he had said that. The cabin belonged to his daughter’s grandfather, his wife’s father. He hadn’t used it in years, and so he’d decided to let them stay there while Arthur’s wife was on a business trip. Arthur turned another corner, and the car emerged into a clearing.
The ‘cabin’ as his father-in-law had called it seemed to be more of a house in the middle of a forest. It was three stories high, made of brick that remained bright red despite the years of weather it had to withstand, and with an enormous number of windows, each covered in beautiful patterns of frost. Icicles, like railroad spikes made of glass, dangled from the edge of the roof. The house was perfect.
Arthur parked the car beside the house, woke Susan, who was sleeping, and had her help him carry the luggage inside. The house was darker than a cave as they entered, the doorway with its icicle fangs swallowing them whole. Arthur fumbled blindly for a light switch, until his hand brushed against something on the wall. It was freezing cold, yet soft. It felt like leather, or rubber. Or skin. It moved, slithering out of his grasp and into the shadows, making a faint scratching sound. Arthur cried out softly.
“What is it, Daddy?” Susan asked.
“Just a spider. Try and help me find a light switch.” There were a few more moments of darkness, before a chandelier hanging in the entryway switched on, and they walked into the house. After eating dinner and unpacking their bags, the family went to bed. Arthur had trouble getting to sleep. The wind was screaming outside, and he kept thinking he saw something creeping through the inky black darkness around his bed. There was a scraping noise too, one that Arthur kept telling himself was only a branch dragging against the window, although there was still a whisper of doubt in his mind, and at night, even whispers can seem quite sinister.
Finally, he sat up in bed and turned on the lamp, causing the shadows to scurry away like roaches. Looking toward the window, he saw that there wasn’t a single tree anywhere near it. Mice, he thought, it’s an old house, there must be mice. Or it could be rats. Hadn’t he read something a few months ago that talked about how rats would climb into people’s beds as they slept, and chew on their toes and fingertips until there was nothing left but bone? No, Katherine’s father would have told him if there were rats. Still, as he turned off the light, he could almost see hundreds of little black eyes peering at him from the gloom, preparing to gnaw his toes down to the bone.
Another sleepless hour later, there was a knock on his door. He lowered one foot over the side of the bed, then the other, imagining the sea of flesh-hungry vermin on the floor. He walked across the room and turned the knob. Susan stood in the hallway, holding a stuffed bear by its leg in one hand.
“I think there’s someone under my bed.” She whispered.
“Susan, it’s late. There’s nothing under your bed.”
“He’s scratching at the bottom of my mattress.”
“Who is?” She paused for a moment, and spoke.
“The cold man.”
“Do you want me to come in there and check?” She nodded. Arthur took a flashlight from his nightstand and followed his daughter down the hallway. Once they were inside the bedroom, Arthur shined the flashlight under Susan’s bed, as she watched in anticipation. With the exception of a few balls of dust, there was nothing. However, as he started to stand up, Arthur noticed something that concerned him. On the underside of the mattress were several long, jagged cuts.
When Susan had finally gone back to sleep, Arthur sat on the side of his bed, staring into the darkness. The cold man. The cold man. The cold man. What had Susan been talking about? Arthur considered turning on the light and reading, but decided against it. That was for the best, because if he turned on the light, he would have seen the pair of eyes gazing back at him.
That morning, Arthur made pancakes for Susan and himself, and they went outside to build snowmen. As Arthur helped his daughter roll one of the balls of snow they had made along the ground, he noticed something in the snow: tiny droplets of red. They formed a trail, almost, leading into the dense curtain of trees. He looked at them for a moment, and started to follow them.
“Where are you going?” Susan asked, “We haven’t finished the snowmen.” Arthur walked back toward her, and after completing the last of their icy creations, he led her back into the house.
“Stay here.” Arthur said. “I’ll make you some cocoa. If you need anything else, come outside and yell for me. I’m not going far.”
“Where are you going?”
“I just need to check on something in the woods. It shouldn’t take long.” He walked out the door and into the forest, following the trail of droplets, which grew slowly larger the farther he went. Finally, he found a small clearing. At this point, the trail had grown to a large crimson streak on the ground. A few yards away, it ended in a puddle of red liquid almost two feet wide. Arthur stood at the edge of the puddle, looking around for the source of the fluid. He was certain now that it was blood. The entire clearing had a nauseating, sickly sweet smell hovering around it, like rotten fruit. Arthur turned his head, and a large drop of blood fell from above onto his nose. It was still warm.
Arthur looked up, and screamed. He clasped one hand over his mouth, and stumbled backward, slipping and falling onto his back. About five feet above his head was the carcass of a deer. It had been suspended there by ropes, going from trees to each of its limbs and its neck. The brown body was slit open from chin to abdomen. All of the animal’s organs were removed, and flies buzzed around its ribcage. Its eyes looked down at him, empty and accusing.
Hunters, he thought, they must have killed it yesterday, or before then, and hung it up there like this to keep bears from taking it. But he knew very well that all of the bears were hibernating, and that Katherine’s father owned all of the land within twenty miles of the cabin, and hunting was forbidden. Still, he thought, someone could have snuck onto the land and killed it before we arrived yesterday. But the blood was still warm, and it was so cold that Arthur’s lips were turning blue. The deer had died recently, and if hunters had killed it, he would have heard a shot. Arthur decided to go back to the house, and to leave soon.
Arthur couldn’t sleep that night, either. He kept thinking of the deer, and its frozen, dead eyes. It hadn’t been cut open, he decided. The edges of the wounds seemed far too ragged for that. There were no bullet holes, either. Someone had torn it apart while it was still alive, taken out its organs, and hung it from a tree. What sort of person would do that? Whoever it was, though, they were nearby, close to him, and his daughter. How close are they? He wondered. A giggle came from down the hall.
Arthur leapt from his bed and sprinted toward Susan’s room. Throwing the door open, he ran inside. Susan sat in the corner, a box of crayons on the floor beside her. As Arthur stepped further into the room, he was sure he saw something moving, slithering just out of the corner of his eye. The sheets on Susan’s bed rustled slightly, as though it had crawled underneath her bed. Susan laughed again.
Arthur turned towards his daughter. She was drawing on the walls, intricate scribbles and spirals and patterns. It looked like a forest. The trees were bare and bony. She had drawn a house, too, which Arthur assumed was meant to be the cabin. There was another thing, however, and this frightened him. It was next to the cabin, half of a face, the other portion concealed behind a tree. The face was drawn in blue, its features long and thin. It had long, tangled, white hair and the one eye that was visible was colored gray. Its mouth hung wide open, filled with teeth that jutted out in all directions.
“What’s that?” Arthur asked. Susan looked up.
“The cold man.”
“Who is the cold man?” She didn’t reply.
“Let’s not draw on the walls anymore. I’ll wash this off tomorrow. Go back to bed, Susan.” Arthur was concerned, and he had reason to be. All children have imaginary friends at some point, don’t they? He thought, trying to calm himself Yes, his thoughts replied, but other children’s imaginary friends don’t look as if they’d like to swallow you whole. ‘The cold man’ she had called him. What might have caused her to come up with anything so strange? Arthur decided to deal with it later, once they had gotten away from this place. He needed sleep.
That night, more snow fell. The wind roared like someone being tortured, and by morning, the snow made it so that Arthur could not open any of the doors that led out of the house. The snow had reached the second-story windows by noon, and was still falling. An hour later, the power went out. The lights dimmed, flickered, and were gone, and the house grew steadily colder. They found candles in the cupboards, but any firewood was outside. Susan remained in her room, drawing things on sheets of paper.
As day faded into evening, Arthur started noticing things. Sometimes, there was a faint hissing sound, as something moved, just beyond the edge of his vision. There were other things, as well. Whispers came from the closets, or the basement, and scratching noises from inside the walls. He and Susan ate cereal for dinner, attempting to use up the last of the milk before it went bad. Susan refused to leave her room, and Arthur had to come upstairs and bring her food to her. When he entered her room, he saw that the entire floor was covered with papers, each one with the same drawing on it. The cold man. Every sheet of paper showed the same thing as the drawing that had been on the wall. Half of that horrible face, peeking out from behind a tree.
After Susan was asleep, Arthur took one of the drawings and sat in his bed, staring at it. The artwork was surprisingly well drawn, despite its unsettling qualities. As Arthur looked more closely, there seemed to be something else. At the edge of the face’s left eye, there was a single word: “die.” Arthur put down the paper. He could hear whispering. He laid back and looked up at the ceiling. There, in the thin sliver of moonlight that still shone through his window, was the cold man.
It hung, spider-like above his bed. Its face was a pale bluish-grey. Its eyes were the color of the winter sky. Its lips were black, and as he watched, they parted, and a mouth full of broken glass, rather than teeth grinned at him. He screamed, and it slid down from the ceiling, along the wall until it was sitting on his chest, and placed a single, icy finger over his lips.
“Hush.” It said, “Everything’s going to be just fine.”