by Justin Mulwee
I'm standing barefoot in a snowdrift that's probably like five feet high. You might wonder why, or maybe you don't care, but either way it's not a very interesting story and I'm not going to tell it to you. How's that for narrator-reader distance? Maybe I want to stay mysterious. Or maybe it's shameful I don't want you to think any less of me. Guess you'll never know.
I'm waiting for my toes to finally freeze and fall off. Every nerve ending in my body is telling me to move, but I don't have the motivation. Mostly because I'm in the middle of a blizzard, or at least it's snowing, and I can't see a thing in any direction. Even the footprints behind me only go back for a little bit, and I bet even if I tried to retrace my steps at some point the footprints would be too far gone. So I could move, but toward what? Every direction is the same.
Another reason for staying put is I've always wondered what frostbite feels like, but never completely had the guts to just go ahead and try it. The furthest I've ever gotten is that funny tingly feeling like your toes are falling asleep, and they still feel cold but kind of stiff and prickly. That's what my feet feel like right now. I'm kind of curious now. I want to see this thing through. For once in my life I want to see something through, no matter how worthless it is. You probably think I'm crazy and I probably am. But screw you.
But something finally made me move. I saw a little gray spot a few feet ahead, just at the edge of visibility. Like dirt or something, which was kind of weird because any bare ground should have been snowed over by now. I trudged a few steps, and each step was sort of agony. "Sort of" because I didn't care all that much. Agony because I was reminded how much it hurt to walk on half-frozen feet.
Okay, I'll tell you why I'm barefoot. I never had any boots because I was too stupid to bring them. I was trudging through the snow with these cheap-ass gym shoes, and my feet were freezing and my socks were wet, because apparently gym shoes are completely worthless in the snow. And if there's one thing I hate more than anything it's wet socks. I'm convinced that hell will be trudging through an endless void with wet socks. So when my feet first started to tingle just a few minutes earlier, I finally just got mad and ripped off those stupid shoes, and the socks too, and chucked those bad boys as hard as I could.
So anyway I was headed toward this little gray spot. It was kind of a hole in the snow There was a pile of gray and black dust and a little bit of smoking rising from it. The snow around the edges was melted. A fire pit. The flame was dead, but when I plunged my hand into it, it was still hot. I put my feet right in the middle, and now my feet were burning and freezing at the same time, still prickly but now hot too, and anyway I figured it might balance out somehow and the doctor might not have to slice off my feet after all.
As I was standing there I started rummaging around in the ash, and found a few things. There was a little piece of knitted cloth, almost completely burnt. Maybe part of a scarf or something. There were bits of wood around the edges that hadn't burned up completely. There were some screws, the face of a wristwatch burnt to hell, and the residue of several other pieces of crap I couldn't make out.
Over toward the side of a pit was something not quite destroyed. A photo in a wooden frame.The bottom of the frame was burnt but most of it intact. The glass covering the photo was broken and smokey, so I couldn't see the inside. Stupidly slicing my fingers, I reached in and slid out the photo.
I wiped some crud away. It was a polaroid. You know, the old fashioned kind from the 90s with the fat white border at the bottom. It took me a couple of minutes to make any sense of it. It was covered in this peppery powder, a mix of snow and ash. At first I thougth it was some kind of snowy landscape or something. But after a minute I could see it was a girl. Wearing a white coat, with dark eyes and dark hair. She was posing all dainty with her hand just over her mouth. I want to say she was pretty, but I couldn'te really tell. The photo was half-destroyed. It was crinkled in the corners where I yanked it out. Kind of grayed and warped from the smoke and heat. It was dirty, or should I say ashy, and was scratched all up so that it was hard to make out any of the features of the girl's face in any serious detail. In the corner was blurry brown blob, probably the finger or thumb of a clumsy photographer.
I concluded that there must be a guy around here somewhere. Only a guy would burn a picture of a girl like this, out in the snow, all dramatically. What was weird about it was that a picture is probably one of the more romantic things to watch burn, but it's the thing he did the worst job of burning. I'm guessing he burned a bunch of other stuff first, then took out that picture and stared at it for a long while, and decided to toss it in just as he was leaving, after the fire was already on its way out.
I pocketed the thing, of course. Even though I was lost, when I found the photograph its mystery becaume equally if not more interesting than the problem of getting somewhere warm. I'm a sucker for mysteries, I guess. I couldn't have been far from the main road in any case, because I hadn't been wandereding for all that long. But they say in a snowstrom you can be lost a mile from your own house because you can't see anything. Distance isn't the problem. Direction is. To that end, I figured, well I guess I didn't know if I was going the right way or the wrong one. On the one hand, I had just found the sign of another human being. The pit of ashes was still warm enough that there must be somebody around. Then again, even in the cold, a fire pit can stay warm all day. On the other hand, I was trying to find the main road and if I foind a firepit and a campsite instead, that meant I was probably wandering away from the road instead of toward it. But at that point toward anything was good enough for me. I think that photograph meant so much to me for that reason. It was a little artifact of life. Not to be dramatic, but I was beginning to feel like the earth contained nothing but this snowy haze.
I wandered some more, trying to pretend the cold wasn't getting to me. I figuren now was as good a time as any to try that mind over matter stuff. From time to time I took my hand out of thecomfrot of mysleeve and pulled out that photograph. I imagined for the heck of it, that the girl was very beautiful and that I would somehow meet her, and maybe save her from a rabit polar bear or something interesting like that, and we'd find the road together and stumble onto a skii resort or something and drink hot cocoa and go skiing, and fall in love. I decided her name was Jennifer. I know, I know. But today reality is empty, so don't blame me for painting a bit of color on this white nothingness. A guy's got to do something with himself at times like this.
I wandered maybe fifty more miles before I found something again. A patch of yellow in the snow where someone or some animal had taken a pee. I could see little frahments of a couple of footprints. Mostly buried, but I could see what direction they were headed, so of course I followed them. They led me to a little cottage. It came right out of the snow. It was almost right in front of me before I noticed it. A little wodden structure. There was a light on. I knocked. No answer. But the door was open so I went in.
There was no one there, but it was warm and the fire was going. I looked around for a bit, never making much of a sound or calling out, but just looking. There was a tiny living room with a kitchen attached, a gas stove, which was kinda rusty, a couple of books sitting around, though none on a shelf.
There was an unfinished coffee table by the fire. On it was a piece of paper. A note was inscribed in blue ink.
"Darling," (The letter started with a gigantic D) I've gone to pick up something for dinner. Perchance you get back before me, would you be a doll and turn on the oven?" signed, THE OBELISK. I looked around again, to find everything silent and dead. I glanced at the oven. It was on already.
I sait on the couch for a couple of minutes, getting warm by the first. I looked at the photograph again. It had lost some its sway over me because it was no longer the sole source of sensory input. But, being safe and warm, my mind was allowed to settle on the mystery. I also thought about how hungry I was. I opened the door again to the outside, only to find nothing but an artic wind. Snow was even piling up at the door at this point, forming a tinly wall of snow right against the door. No one was approaching.
I looked at the over again. The timer was going. if no one showed up by the time it was done I was just going to eat whatever was in there. But someone did show up, not five minutes later. I nearly had a heart attack when the door opened. I Imagined some 50 year old with a shotgun walking in and yelling his head off and putting a shell in me for being in his house. But it wasn't. It was a young blond woman. I think she nearly had a stroke when she saw me. She closed the door and leaned with her back against it, as if cornered, suddenly tense.
"You.. are you The Obelisk?" "what?" I blurted, the first word out of my mouth all day. "Am I a what?" "The Obelisk. Don't play games with me." "Lady, I don't know anything about any Obelisks." "Oh... well then who are you then?" "Me? I'm uh, I'm nobody. Sorry" I felt a weird, sudden wave of self-loathing as I said it. She was very beautiful. "So, is this.. this is your cabin then? I just uh, there was a snowstorm and the door was open, so I just... Where did you come from? I didn't hear anything pull up." "The outhouse. practically got lost on the way back, you can't see anything out there anymore." She eased up a little, relaxed her shoulders and stood up straighter. She stepped in and moved toward the fire, reaching her hands out for warmth. It was down to embers. "Listen," she said, "could you maybe go see if there's some more wood out back. We need some."
"Sure," I said. I didn't feel like going back into the cold, but I didn't really mind doing some kind of manly, hunter-gatherer action for a cuter girl I just met. She watched me without moving as I went back out the door and closed it behind me. I still couldn't see anything in any direction, but I wasn't so concerned about it anymore. Out back there were some big fat logs. No pre-cut firewood anywhere. I grabbed an ax that was leaning against the cabin. With a hefty swing I sent the ax into the log, and it stuck halfway through. I wiggled and yanked for a while before I could get it out again, and retry. After a few sloppy hacks with cold fingers, I managed to split it into several pieces. I was glad the girl wasn't watching. I'm not exactly a lumberjack.
I stepped back in with an armful of wood. The girl was now sitting on the couch by the fire. She turned to look at me, and I noticed for the first time that her eyes were very blue. I dumped a couple pieces into the fireplace and messed around with a fire poker.
"Thanks, she said." I leaned back and looked at her with satisfaction, and just stared at her for a minute. She wore a blue choker with a little letter K dangling from it. sliver. Her eyes were brown, and I realized she was looking at the photograph I found. I had left it on the table. "Where'd you get this?" she asked, suddenly agitated. I shrugged. "I found it. Why, is it yours?" "It's me." she said "A couple years ago. I used to dye my hair back then. I could see that she was creeped out. I'm walking around with an old picture of her and she's never even met me.
I thought whoever this obelisk was, he was pretty pretentious. Giving himself a name like a comic book villain. "So, why'd you come here?" "I told you, I got a letter." She was obviously beating around the bush. "No, I mean, why would you come to some unknown psycho's house who calls himself a nickname like a super-villain just because he asked you in a letter?
She hesitated. "I don't know who he is. But someone mailed me a letter threatening to blackmail me. And he said he wouldn't if I just came to this address and had dinner with him." I eyed her up and down, and suddenly felt a little different about her. She was a pristine looking girl, and all of the sudden she had this deep dark secret. I didn't even care what it was, but the fact that she had it made her interesting to me. "Must be quite a secret he has on you, to get you d to do something crazy like that. I mean, for all you know, he wanted you to bring you out here to rape and murder you. " "Don't say that," she said. And I suddenly felt terrible again.
"Where'd you get this photograph?" she said, suddenly agitated. I must have left it on the table before she came in, and now she was held it with desperate curiosity. I shrugged. "I found it. Why, look familiar?" She nodded. "It's me. I used to dye my hair back then. My old boyfriend took it. It's from a few years ago, when we lived together." "Boyfriend, eh? I take it he's the thumb." "Ex. broke up not long after this was taken." "Why?" It was only a I said it that I realized I had just asked an extremely personal question. But since I already said it, I wasn't going to go back on it. So I just waited for an answer. It was a long time coming. "He was kind of crazy. I mean, not psycho crazy; he never hit me or anything. He was just kind of.. eccentric, and he creeped me out a little bit." She was quiet for a bit and I didn't say anything. Then she continued. "Like for instance, sometimes when I woke up he would just be staring at me, like he was watching me sleep. I guess some girls might think that was romantic but with him it was different. I mean, the way he stared at me,. he wasn't smiling or anything. I mean he wasn't evl-looking. But he sort of looked at me like someone looks at a piece of art when they're trying to make sense of it. Or trying to read a schematic. I felt like he was dissecting me instead of just, you know, admiring. I don't know. It's just an example." I nodded. I didn't ex completely get it but I got the basic idea. He was a creep.
"Maybe he's your Obelisk." I said. "I found that picture outside. Someone was trying to burn it, I guess. She sort of nodded, not seeming especially surprised. "That would kind of make sense." "Well, why would this ex of yours call himself the obelisk?" "He's kind of tall," she said, "and stiff." This was shaping up to be more interesting all the time. At first I just wanted shelter. Now I wanted to see how this would play out. But I had the strange desire to not interfere. "How about when he shows up, I'll hide somewhere and you two can talk. Pretend I'm not here. But if he tries anything crazy I'll pop out and.. you know, do something."
I don't want to see him again, she said, and put her head down. I wanted to put my arm on her back to comfort her or something, but I figured that would be a bad move. We sat there for a couple of minutes, and then heard the doorknob turning. Without thinking much, I ran into the bathroom. Part of me wanted to just greet him at the door and scare and confuse the hell out of him. I kind of smiled at this idea for a second, even as I was hiding. But it was better to just hide and wait for something to happen.
Darling! he yelled. "How wonderful it is to see you again!" From my angle, I could see K, but not the man who entered. "Hello, Jeremy," she said in a somewhat dejected way. "What's this about?" "Whatever do you mean?" "Bringing me here, blackmailing me anonymously, so you could have one last date with me?" "Oh, that. Well, yes. I'm sorry Darling, it's just that I missed you terribly, and couldn't bear the thought of departing without first having onje last dinner with my beloved." "We're through, Jeremy. she said. I'm not you're beloved anymore. " "On the contrary," he said, "being my beloved requires only that you are loved by me. Your own feelings are irrelevant. " The man sounded suddenly very dry and scientific. His abrupt change in tone to the most abject seriousness was strange and creepy.
"Ok, Jeremy, I'll have dinner with you.. just as long as you don't tell anyone, just like you promised. " "Oh you'd like that, wouldn't you!" he erupted, "if I just let you go, scott free, without telling anyone a thing, without letting anyone know what a deplorable little thief you are! You have no right no to make demands of me!"
"But Jeremy," she said calmly, "You said if I came here for dinner with you, all would be forgiven. That's what your letter says, see?" She took out a piece of paper and looked at it, then offered it to him. Her arm was just outside of my field of view.
She was clearly used to dealing with this person and his apparent madness. "Oh, oh yes of course," he said, in his scientific tone again, "how silly of me." Well... it will be a while before the rabbit is done. What SHALL we do until then?
Not that I especially cared about this girl or anything, but I didn't like where this conversation was going. I wasn't terribly keen on playing the hero if it came to that, but on the other hand I was getting sort of antsy and most of me wanted to just pop out and say something, scare him half to death, and just see where things went from there. I mean, I had to come out at some point anyway.
Then when walked into view, and I could see his face for the first time. He was a very tall, lanky man, wearing an extravagant black suit which made him look very boxy. I guess I could see how one might say he resembled an obelisk. He had an evil-looking, triangular goatee. "Let's play bocce ball," he said. Bocce ball? Who blackmails his ex-girlfriend into playing bacci ball? But then he said, "If you win, you can go home after dinner. If I win, you'll marry me."
"I'm NOT marrying you, Jeremy." K said sternly, the first time she raised her voice. "So let it go." He turned red, and his evil goatee suddenly seemed pointier. "Don't CALL me that! Since you left me, Jeremy is no more! There is only THE OBELISK!!"
At which point I jumped out from the bathroom and stared Mr. Obelisk straight in the face. "This is ridiculous." I said. "What's wrong with you?"
"Who is this?" He yelled, pointing at me but yelling at K. "What sort of ruffian have you brought into my home? A new boyfriend perhaps? How dare you humiliate me like this?"
"yeah, that's right," I said, suddenly belligerent because it seemed like the thing to do, "I'm with K now," I put my arm around her. I didn't even know her name but, judging from the choker, I hoped her name at least started with a K, and then it would look like I had given her an affectionate nickname, so as to further defame this obelisk person. The Obelisk jumped back like a vampire from presented with a cross, and then he said, leaning back and making a hellish expression with his stretched face: I will destroy you! he said, "I will annihilate you both!" He suddenly became even more stiff and leaned back awkwardly. I thought about getting a head start by rushing up and kicking him in the shin. But I decided instead of just stand there and see what in the world this ridiculous person was going to do. I realized at that moment that I was sort of about to get in a huge fight that was sort of over a girl I didn't know about know at all, or really care about. I don't usually get myself into situations like this. I stay out of this crazy lovers' quarrel garbage.
I'm not really going to get into the details of what ensued, because it's not that interesting, but suffice it to say The Obelisk got to kicking my ass. Or I should say he was in the middle of kicking my ass when K cracked him over the head with a plate from behind. So, there I was all bruised up from fighting this Obelisk person, and K looking a little bit freaked out because The Obelisk was bleeding from the head. But he was moaning which told us he wasn't dead or anything.
He would probably be OK--but K admitted that if he died, it would solve a lot of her problems. We decided we'd call an ambulance if the storm ever stopped. In the mean time we chucked that fruit loop into his own cellar.
After a few minutes, the oven dinged. The pot, it turned out, contained a roasted rabbit surrounded by carrots. K got a plate to replace the one she broke over The Obelisk's head, and we sat down to dinner together. For the heck of it I lit the candles on the table. I didn't know if The Obelisk was going get back up, or if the police would get involved or what. All I knew was I was for the moment I was sharing a candlelight dinner with a cute girl. Considering my condition an hour before, I couldn't complain.