BLOOD RED SNOW
– a WICUS FOSTER short story –
10 minute read
Copyright © 2016 Wicus Foster
This short story is a work of fiction. Any resemblence to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is entirely coincidental. Names characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Facebook: Wicus Foster
BLOOD RED SNOW
– a WICUS FOSTER short story –
10 minute read
The man shut the dog in the house. The rain was cold, close to snow.
He had promised Rose he would not check on her hidden in the crack in the earth for three days but he hadn’t slept at all during the night. He needed to know if she was dead or alive.
His headlamp brushed back the early morning darkness, leading him away from the small house. He crossed the dirt road, inhaling the cold air. He walked over the narrow foot bridge made of rough sawn three-by stock, crossing the river and continuing along the its far bank until the big bend, where the roaring water muscled it’s way south. The man headed north, up into the black woods. He moved haltingly, waiting for the headlamp to give way to dawn.
There was no path to his wife in a hole half way up the mountain – only thick dark understory.
When he arrived at the hole the rain had changed over to spitting snow. The outline of Rose’s clothes littered the forest floor outside the crack in the earth. One of her small, white cotton socks subtly blended with the falling snow. He eyed the mound of dirt turning white in front of the fallen tree’s large root ball.
He approached the crack between the dirt and the tangled roots.
“Hey,” he whispered, waiting. “Rose?” He moved closer, peering in, feeling sick.
“It hasn’t even been a day.” Her voice was weak.
“Shit,” he smiled. “You’re still here.”
“I’m so cold.” Rose coughed.
“You should be. October in the woods is a cold time in life.” The man shook his head. “I thought you’d be gone.”
“Dead, you mean?”
“Yeah, dead I guess.”
“I tried sleeping without the blanket but couldn’t. Life just does that. Tricks me to want to last longer waiting for nothing.” Rose coughed. “Middle aged, barren, too sick to shit by myself. The stars are bored with me now.”
“You took your clothes off.” He stared at the clothes strewn about the snowy ground. “This is so bizarre.”
“I don’t need clothes to die.”
“But you kept the blanket. It’s still bizarre.”
“Because you were right, I can’t do this. I wanna go home.”
The man looked away from the crack in the earth, up at the gray morning, studying the stubborn bright yellow larch needles overhead against the falling snow. Most of the larch needles had fallen to the ground. “Your temperature was one-hundred one yesterday before you crawled in that damn crack. I can’t believe you’re alive.”
The man stared back into the crack. “All night I thought you were dead. You told me you’d be dead. You must be freezing?”
“I already told you I’m cold.” Rose coughed. “Bring me back. I don’t want to die like this. It’s not beautiful like I wanted. I wanted to evaporate but this sucks. Dying is bullshit.”
“Jesus, Rose. I just want to make you comfortable.”
She coughed, then cried. “This is stupid.”
“You’re trying to be in control. That’s not stupid.”
“Get me out.”
He squinted, staring at her in the hole. “That’s a chain?”
“I had to lock myself in here or I would have crawled back out when it got dark last night.”
“What are you chained to?”
Her hand patted a ledge under her. “Two eye-bolts drilled into the granite.”
“How in hell did’ya do that?”
“I drilled them last summer—when I was thinking everything through.”
“That damn chain looks tight.”
“It is. I need the key to get out.”
“So unlock it.” The man studied the chain wrapped around Rose’s thin waist and shoulders and neck and legs. Her small, flat breasts were smudged with dirt as if the earth was taking her back from where she came and aimed to make dust out of her over the long term as it aims to do with every human being who eats and breathes and pisses on this big rock called Earth.
An oversized padlock was locked through the thick chain links.
“The key should be somewhere around your feet. I threw it out last night with the clothes.”
The man scoured the white ground. Yellow larch needles mixed with snow.
“Small and silver,” said Rose. “About the size of a bad idea.”
“’l’ll find it.” He looked from the crack in the rootwad back towards his feet, careful not to tramp around too much and bury the key. He scanned back and forth, back and forth. “The size of a bad idea?”
“I don’t know – that’s what it reminds me of. I’m goddamn freezing.”
He removed his wet jacket, taking off his dry sweatshirt and t-shirt. “Take these.” He passed them into the dark crack. “And this.” He pushed in his jacket. “It’s wet but might help.”
The large snowflakes melted on his back.
The man continued his search for the key.
“I want soup. Make me warm chicken soup and then I’ll die. I’ll evaporate like steam from hot soup.”
The man kept scanning. “You’ll get hot soup.” He extended the size of his search with his eyes.
The man paused, looking back at the crack. “I’ll run back for the big bolt cutters if I have to.” He knelt down, patting the snowy ground.
Rose continued coughing. “Is that the key?”
The snow was cold on his back. “You did throw it, right, Rose?”
“Wasn’t that it?”
The man held up a small rock, revealing it to the crack. “Jesus, Rose. Yes or no?”
“I can picture myself throwing it out the crack.”
“But you’re not sure?”
“Who knows? I’m fucking dying.”
“Shit.” The man stood, gazing into the crack. Snow spitting down. He walked to the opening, peering inside. The dirty face looking back wasn’t Rose’s. It was a dying organism in a damp, cold hole in the earth, losing heat from its mass.
“I’ll run to the house and get the bolt cutters and bring you back dry clothes.”
“Shit, Rose! You need to get outta there. You’ll be in the house soon with warm blankets. And hot chicken soup. This is fucking insane!”
“It’s not! It’s just hard – knowing I’m fading away forever.” Rose coughed. “It’s all a fucked up charade, you know that?”
“Put on my stuff. I’ll be back.”
“I know all about you. You never liked that about me, knowing more about shit than you ever could.” Her voice was dry, needing the wet snow, if only it would blow in the crack, into her parched mouth. “Touch me before you go. Please!”
The man bent down again, looking in the hole. He reached towards Rose, extending his left arm. The chain rattled. He touched her thin cold neck, rubbing it. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered, closing his eyes.
She breathed deeply, as he brought his hand up, caressing her gaunt face, his eyes still shut.
“Aaaagh, shit!” He yanked his arm out of the hole, staring at the back of his bloody hand. “You bit me, Rose! What the hell?” He shook his hand, spraying the snowy ground with dots of blood.
“You’ll never forget that,” she wheezed. “I’m death biting you. You’ll be next you bastard. I want hot soup.”
The man ran through the storm, the cold, his hand throbbing. Branches slapped his bare chest, scraped his back. He arrived at the river bend quicker than he expected. Running up stream, along the bank, away from the crack in the earth. The planks across the river were covered with wet snow. He hurried up the opposite bank, across the dirt road, over to the shed near the house.
He ripped open the door, feeling for the light switch, turning it on. On the far wall hung the large three-foot bolt cutter—gray with red handles. He grabbed it and the hacksaw in case the bolt cutter didn’t work.
He ran toward the house, its silhouette blurry through the snow, dropping the bolt cutter and hacksaw in the driveway.
The dog wagged his tail when the man ran in the house. It followed him into the basement. He grabbed Rose’s blue backpack and a sleeping bag. Upstairs in the mudroom he threw in two winter hats, gloves, a neck gaiter, a down parka. He filled three mugs of water, placing them in the microwave, programing it for four minutes. In the laundry room he grabbed socks, a fleece pullover. Upstairs he grabbed a pair of long underwear. He ran back down to the basement for ski pants. The microwave dinged while he was in the pantry where he found the silver thermos. At the kitchen sink he dropped three cubes of chicken bullion into the thermos. With the thermos in the sink he poured two and a half mugs of hot water into it. He zipped it into the backpack’s side pocket. In the downstairs bathroom he grabbed Rose’s orange bottle of Percocet.
In the laundry room he grabbed a wool shirt for him. Drops of blood from his hand were on the linoleum. He examined the back of his hand. The bite was deep and wide. Two teeth marks were visible on the top of the wound. He looked at his watch. He left Rose nineteen minutes earlier. Dry pants, he thought. He took his pants off, catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror. He hadn’t shaved for days. His shoulders slouched from caring for someone who didn’t care anymore about the taste of honey on warm, fresh bread or the touch under the blankets in the center of the world’s hissing darkness. Black circles surrounded his eyes. He checked his watch again. Twenty-one minutes. He stared back at his hand.
As he had for two years, he avoided the downstairs bathroom and its endless row of orange and translucent green pill bottles along the sink’s backsplash. He despised the bedpan in the corner. The room reeked of deathly staleness.
Upstairs he shut the bathroom door. He liked a hot bathroom, filled with steam. Rose didn’t.
He stepped into the shower and eased the back of his hand under the spray of hot water, wincing. Pink water rained around his feet. He irrigated the wound, staring at Rose’s bite mark. He rubbed his face and closed his eyes under the hot shower. He squirted shampoo in his hand, washing his dark hair, so as to let the soap run down his stiff neck, down his left arm and over his bite from death.
Putting dry pants on in the bedroom he looked at the portrait of Rose on the dresser. It was taken in Nepal, with Annapurna towering in the background. Her smile was as big as the mountain, her eyes sparkling in the moment. She wanted to see elephants later when they traveled to Royal Bardia National Park after the expedition but they never did see any but she said she didn’t care because she was traveling with him in a beautiful place and there would always be elephants but the two them would not always be in a beautiful place so she said the hell with elephants and smoked hash and fucked hard under the gaze of big mountains who knew the secret.
Her dresser was neat and organized. He had done that three years earlier. A year after her diagnosis, after she stopped coming up stairs. He kept a neat house because he held that power. It looked nice and made sense and demonstrated to anyone who bothered to look that someone cared and maintained order and when something was out of place or knocked over he could fix it and it felt good. And even when he realized no one was looking he still used his power to keep order upstairs because it made him feel worthy of life.
He put on the old black wool sweater hanging in his closet. She liked it on him.
The dog greeted him downstairs. The man sat in a kitchen chair, putting on his clean, warm socks. Through the glass of the woodstove’s door he noticed it needed more wood. He fed it two pieces of Doug-fir he had cut and split in the summer not long after her last smile, maybe he thought, the same time she was drilling eye bolts into granite so she could chain her self inside a hole to die. He went to the laundry room, picking up his wet pants, carefully emptying the pockets before placing them in the washer. He closed the small silver key in his hand and returned to the woodstove. The wood snapped. The room was warm.
He sat in the rocking chair, the heat from the stove warming his legs. He thought of his calves then he thought of sinew, how tough it is, and how it too rots eventually, and that his sinew, in time, will disappear. He imagined a starving coyote pulling at it. The dog sat next to him. The man stared into the fire through the wood stove’s glass door, watching and listening to its ancient secrets.
He removed his right hand from his pocket, opening it. In his palm he studied the small key. The size of a bad idea.
The fire blazed and the storm whispered.
He stroked the bite mark on the back of his hand, gazing outside at the storm, welcoming the snow’s beauty.