As the Cold Rises
Some things are written in the cards
Some things we cannot change completely
But often there lies the opportunity
To alter them
Ever so slightly
Just enough so that the worlds
Can enjoy them
A little bit
Chapter 1 – In His Honor
The color was a vibrant sapphire, yet it seemed almost transparent. It was as if someone had encased a gem in a crystal shell and I was now viewing it from the outside, with prisms of bluish light dancing off of every edge of its surface. And still more light blossomed, light, which played on light, bouncing from glimmer to glimmer. The colors stacked upon themselves, creating a massive tower of gleaming rays, though in truth it was miniscule. Lambent flames licked the cold air and I returned once more to the sorrow imprisoned within the boundaries of a blazing campfire.
The night was beautiful. The expansive masterpiece of clinquant stars seemed to worship the glowing moon. Oh yes, the sky was a sight and the air was favorable, but the fire remained sad. Brilliant blue flames built upon themselves once more as yet another graham cracker box was tossed into the logs. The chemicals reacted with the scorching coals, sending chutes of emerald and violet to coincide with the sapphire. The fire was pretty for an instant, but the colors died and the box curled into a fragile black ball, smoldering smugly on the shale.
The shale under my feet was cold. The light gray rocks reflected the shade of his fading eyes. How pale they had gone, lingering in front of an unknown passageway. His vision had trailed, gone blurry I’d guessed, and he was searching. His pupils dilated and consumed his sunken face as if something evil had come over him. I’ve heard that people lose five pounds the minute they die. I could believe it; the way the warmth escaped him and brutal coldness emanated from his lifeless grasp. The breath curled out of his lips and hovered in the air, one last wisp of his existence.
Nobody thought it possible; his life suddenly banished from his all too able corpse. I shuddered, how nice it would be if he could just come back. He wasn’t gone, exactly, only sleeping. In our vivid, horrifying memories he lived on.
There hadn’t been any choking last words, no fighting for survival, no. When we found him he was lying calmly on the rocks. He looked almost peaceful. There was life in him still, but only time left for us to watch it leave.
“Kirk,” a weakened voice called, and I was jolted back into my reality. It was not as if I have ever left it, only regressed a few hours. It was almost nice to return to the moments where he could still feel, where he could still see.
“Kirk,” I heard again, and I turned and nodded in one smooth motion. My beckoner took this as an invitation to speak, and began a quiet stream of consciousness that I knew I was supposed to acknowledge. I’m sure there was some part of me that wanted to listen, but I shoved that part into the dusty closet that resides in the back of my skull and allowed myself to be consumed by the fire.
Not to be shaken from my fixated gaze, I examined every inch of the warming flames, but all I felt were shots of chilled ice. It was in his honor, this fire. It was for him. It may have been but a solution to the lack of actions we had to take on his behalf, but we knew he would not want a ceremony or a proper burial. We knew he would not want a morgue or an autopsy or anything medical and right.
We knew he would only want what was natural, so we had hoisted him into our tiny rowboat and brought him to the middle of the lake. There we had clumsily edged him overboard and felt the unbalanced sway that resulted from his exit of the boat. He sunk slowly, lingering in our presence only long enough for us to offer him a wave, and then he disappeared.
Beside me my beckoner maintained her mindless chatter, and I was catching a few words here and there. “Rocks,” and “So sorry,” and “If only,” and other such nonsense jammed into mu mind through my annoyed and intolerant ears. Her sentiments were unwelcome, couldn’t she see that?
“I only wish there had been a better fate for that poor boy, he…”
“Darren.” I interrupted rudely.
“What did you…?”
“Darren, his name is Darren.” I cut in again. There was no mistaking the blunt anger in my voice for any sort of careless melancholy. I watched her face fall sadly as she mumbled a flushed apology and ceased her babbling. I looked back at the fire. His fire. She had known him, she had felt the joy of his upbeat happiness, she had loved him, and now she couldn’t even say his name. I kicked the stoned beneath me, disgusted at her lack of respect. Darren may have been a boy, but he deserved to be treated as something more.
I glanced up at all of the other bodies huddled around the fire. Some of them met my stare and blushed, dropping their heads. Some of them never even noticed my change in position. Only one locked in on my petrified eyes: Robbie Clayfield. Robbie had been Darren’s other best friend. The three of us had made a sort of trio.
We were the guys in the park playing Frisbee in T-Shirts in the middle of February. We were the guys who received three-hour detentions for throwing a football inside. We were the ones who led the rebellion. We were the ones who banged on the bedroom doors at four in the morning to hold and emergency meeting about the living conditions in our dorms. We were the ones who led a train of fourteen other orphans to the nearest bus station and hitched everyone a ride to the town of Marcs. We were the reason that sixteen of us were now crowded around a blazing campfire, the seventeenth, Darren, lost below the rippling waves.
The orphanage hadn’t cared; it was easier for them without the extra mouths to feed. The owners of our house didn’t care either, because they hadn’t lived there since the fall of 1999 when they had fled because of ghost sightings. Nobody dared go in the building after that, except us, because we knew better than to believe in ghost stories. So we had escaped the growing fear of the foster care that was necessary after out sixteenth birthdays, and we had abandoned society to live our way. None of us wanted to be auctioned off like animals to families who wanted numerous obedient children. None of us cared for education or diplomas; we only valued our freedom.
Robbie and I understood this concept of justice perfectly, and the rest of the orphans went along with it. It was in this was that Robbie and I understood each other, so we stayed there, our eyes stuck in silent conversation.
Robbie and I were strong, we were tough, but we weren’t ready to handle something like this. It wasn’t death that frightened us, no, we were used to that. It was his death: Darren’s. He was a part of us. We were a team. Now it was only the two of us.
I broke the connection and turned by attention to my beckoner. She looked as if she wanted to start another conversation but was too afraid of my reaction. I offered her a frail smile, and she bit her lip uncertainly. She leaned over and rested her head on my shoulder. I sighed, gave in, and put my arm supportively around her. And so it was that on the saddest day of my life, I had my first female friend.
Robbie punched me in the morning, yelling at me for trying to erase my memory of Darren with a girl.
“It’s not fair to him or to you, scumbag. Give yourself some time to get over him!”
“Robbie, she’s just a friend, calm down,” but post-loss-of-a-best-friend-anxiety took over the both of us, and I bid my beckoner farewell over breakfast.
Everyone gasped in shock when Robbie and I announced our planned departure to the city that night.
“You brought us here, you can’t leave us!”
“You’re just trying to escape the fact that Darren’s gone…”
“Darren is not gone!” I screamed, “He’ll stay here forever. I am perfectly capable of dealing with this. Now you all sit tight, we’re only leaving for a few weeks, we’ll be back soon enough.”
Robbie took me by the arm and walked me through the door without saying a word. Maybe it was wrong of us to leave those kids alone, but the veracity of the situation was that we couldn’t bear it. With the loss of Darren came the loss of our hearts. We had nothing to help us wake up in the morning or to keep the blood pulsing through our sorrow-filled lungs, and so we ran from it.
Chapter 2 – Short Lived
Walking through the city was like walking through a dream. Not in the sense that my surroundings were surreal, but rather I had little control over my actions. I was robotic-Kirk today, and I was a very routine robot. The hard part was breathing. There was no reason to breathe, for with every gasp of air came the pain. Breathing meant I was alive, and being alive meant I was away from Darren. Not only was I away from him, I was in a whole different world. This world, the one I resided in, was a million times worse, simply because he wasn’t here.
And so my seemingly robotic legs carried me forward in rushed motions, although I had no clue where to. Robbie had to take a double step every few strides and soon he was jogging to keep up with me. He kept hollering at me, asking me things, but I knew I had no answers. No, I didn’t know where we were going, No I didn’t know where we were, and No, I couldn’t explain why we had left so soon.
“Kirk,” he pestered my robotic self, and I felt my head turn in bothered response. “Kirk, you can’t push me away; I’m all you have left.”
“We’re all each other has left,” I corrected him. To be honest I was surprised that my voice sounded normal; neither mechanical nor frightened. I noticed his concerned expression so I volunteered my unsure direction. “We should go get some food, are you hungry?”
“Sort of. I’m more nauseous, but maybe some snacks would help.”
“We’re going to need to eat at some point.”
I ambled carelessly into the nearest gas station. Robbie followed more eagerly now, happy that I had partially abandoned the robot within me. Inside we were safe from the barren chills of the gelid city air. The cracked tile walls were filthy with brown and yellow grit. The lights set forth a dark glow, which seemed to make the place darker rather than enhance our vision. I found myself gazing fixatedly at boxes of packaged cereal and chips; we had never had food like this back at home, it was always fish.
We had a pretty stable business; we would clean and sell our fish at the local marina for small profits. If we made enough money we would have the occasional box of cookies, but otherwise we cooked out fresh catches over a campfire on the lake.
The night of Darren’s fire we hadn’t had fish. We hadn’t even had a spare loaf of bread. It was only leftover graham crackers. Neither Robbie nor I had eaten anything. We hadn’t had breakfast the next morning either. This morning. Gosh, everything seemed so far away. Last night was the fire. Yesterday. Yesterday he was still with us: swimming and laughing.
“Darren,” I whispered, and Robbie glanced over at me. He put his hand on my back and we stared together at the shelves stacked with food. We had only the money we had saved from out own fish sales; we hadn’t been able to bring ourselves to steal from the group, not when we were leaving them already. We had found a few pennies on the sidewalk during our journey, but they did little help in this expensive world.
Robbie made his way to the counter with a sandwich wrapped in plastic in one hand and three crumpled dollar bills in the other. I wasn’t paying attention to him. I let my mind wander to the magazines on the rack, when I heard a raspy question from behind me.
“When’d you lose him?”
I ripped my eyes off a crisp People Magazine and spun on my heel. Robbie hadn’t said a single word since we had walked in the store, but this man seemed to be questioning him as if they were engaged in a deep conversation.
He stood behind the cash register, his black eyes glistening in the dark light. His skin was a ghastly white and his head was a mass of filthy, long hair. He looked as if he was only a shell, a body that housed neither soul nor heart, yet there was a lively hop to his hobble that caught my attention as he rounded the counter swiftly.
“What?” I cut in calmly from across the store, breathing quite smoothly given the circumstances.
“Who was he?” He croaked again, leaning in toward us. Robbie and I exchanged anxious glances. I swallowed the burning rock in my throat.
“What are you talking about?” I choked.
“You know exactly what,” he spat disgusted, “Don’t lie to me. What was his name?”
“Who?” Robbie asked sincerely.
“Your friend, the one who died.”
Robbie’s eyes opened wide and my jaw went slack.
“How did you know that?” I demanded. My shoulders were shaking and I hadn’t the slightest idea how I was still upright with the way my legs had turned to jelly. I couldn’t understand why I was so scared. I mean, the old man was creepy and it was odd that he knew about Darren, but it wasn’t frightening, only queer.
“I always kn…” he trailed off mid-word and cleared his throat, “I can always tell when someone is mourning,” he wheezed. “Tell me everything,” he commanded, and Robbie shook his head violently.
“No,” we answered, and I promptly elaborated, “It’s none of your business.”
The old man’s eyes went wild.
“Tell me now!” he screamed, and Robbie continued to shake, though now in disagreement. “What was his name?”
“Darren,” I gasped.
“How did it happen?” I flinched, the memory flooded through me like bitter winds. I saw the smile on Darren’s face as he told us to go inside, saying he only wanted to swim a bit longer and he was sure the storm would hold off. I heard the thunder, I watched the waves grow ever bigger and the lightning strike ever closer as I ran down the narrow path that leads towards the beach.
“How did it happen?” he asked again, this time annunciating the final word. I squeezed my eyes shut, still immersed n the rain-soaked disaster. I scanned the water, but I couldn’t see him. I remembered how cold the current had been as I had jumped in, but the waves had just thrown me right back.
“The rocks,” I answered harshly, “There was a storm, big waves, lot’s of wind.”
The man nodded, accepting my feeble description.
“And the burial?” he asked. It was not his place, not his duty to immerse himself in our affairs. I threw him a scornful look and opened my pursed lips.
“He washed up on the shore that evening, we threw him back.”
“Back to the lake? In one piece?” the man questioned, and I shuddered at the thought of it being otherwise.
“Yes, thank God.”
The old man gathered a confusing smile,
“He’s not gone,” he chuckled matter-of-factly.
Robbie and I inched closer to each other as the man slowly advanced on us. I don’t think either of us knew just what it was that we were so scared of him doing, so we were both equally surprised at his next words.
“I can bring him back,” he whispered. His eyes were focused on something we could not see, something distant, stored away in the back of his mind.
“How?” I asked, perplexed. Robbie kicked me and hissed in my ear,
“He’s crazy,” but I ignored him.
“How can you get him back to us? And what do you mean he isn’t gone?”
“Darren’s soul lives on, you gave him that by sending him back to the sea.”
“So a spirit can live on if it returns to the place of its death?”
“No,” he breathed, “No, it can’t, but when you threw Darren back to the water. His soul didn’t exactly have time to die, let’s keep it at that.”