Frost Bite, by Sasha Janel McBrayer

I remember the cold on my eyeballs. The smell of it. So clean.

It didn’t take us long to file into the nearby cave for warmth. The wreckage was barely smoking in the snow. The rumpled plane was as wintry as the landscape.

No implements with which to start a fire inside. Just shivering survivors warmed only by proximity and the friction from our quaking shoulders. We numbered five.

At three days lost in the tundra, Carmike fashioned a cave door from a section of airplane. It stopped the wind.

At four days we had eaten everything we found, including bits of leather and chewing gum. Sierra began eating her hair.

At three weeks, surviving only on melted snow, sour bush berries, and a skinny rabbit we quartered and shared and ate raw, Carmike and I began making eyes at each other; scheming without words. Baumer dropped dead that evening. He had been the eldest. The ground too frozen to even hope to bury him, we crunched him into a corner; face covered, and prayed he wouldn’t spoil.

What could spoil in this ice? We might have eaten him if he weren’t so stiff and green. His age-wrinkled skin appeared unappetizing even to we wretched hungry.

I was relieving myself on day twenty-three, steadying my weak corpus by holding fast to a tree, when Carmike startled me with his hand abruptly on my shoulder. I finished and turned to him.

“We’re the strongest, Reeves. And Sierra has the most fat. Richards will protest, but I can take him out,” he said.

“What are you suggesting?” I asked. I hated myself for wasting the breath to pretend. “…It’ll be messy,” I added.

“The quicker we eat her, the warmer her blood will be.”

My conscience was as numb as my swollen, frost-nipped toes.

“I’ll yawn as a cue,” Carmike said. “With my arms wide. Like so,” he added, spreading his limbs like Christ.

I made a single nod.

Later Carmike performed his pantomime, like the world’s worst actor. I hesitated, but grabbed Sierra by her shoulders before the sluggish minds surrounding us could catch wise. Richards’s objection came when he stood swiftly onto unsure feet, but just as summarily, Carmike clocked him with the butt of our flashlight.

We were upon Sierra then, men no more. And her blood was warm in a way the skinny rabbit had only very sadly mocked. And it was messy and when it was over our stomachs did strange things.

We collapsed onto our backs, the macabre pair of us. When Richards had fallen, he’d pulled back the blanket hiding Baumer’s dead face so that the departed was staring at me, his features contorted in accusatory disgust.

This may have bothered me had the sharp pain in my belly not assaulted all my faculties. Carmike likewise writhed, bumping the cave door opened with his knee. It was sunset and I had a view from the ground, past my protruding ribs and the toes of my shoes to witness his combustion.

That’s right, the fading shard of sunlight shot through the snowy trees and in through the crack in the door to make Carmike catch fire. He was screaming so. And to stop the sound I inched along the floor and reached to pull the door to. The back of my hand was burned in the process.

The cave fell silent, but was saturated with a smell like brimstone. When the pain in my stomach waned I questioned what I’d just witnessed. Was this madness? Hell perhaps? A place where sunlight kills.

Time passed before I finally lifted myself and scooted over to Carmike’s char-black body. Whereas I now felt strong and nourished, Carmike, who had grown long fangs, which hung down from his opened mouth, was rigid and blank. When I traced my own finger across my teeth I discovered the same sharp canines.

In fact, what remained of his coal ears were pointed –bat-like. Mine were the same.

A truth invaded my brain. The cold, the live human blood mingling with my stomach acid; somehow these parts forged me into a monster.

It was night and I left the cave to enjoy my new found liveliness and invulnerability. I noted that the cold on my eyeballs was perceived, but was so much less affecting than before.

I found a moonlit pool and dipped my head to view my reflection. I marveled that it was mine. My skin was chalky and my hair the color of star shine. I reached to disturb the pool and use its contents to wash free Sierra’s blood from my mouth. Since making a meal of the woman, I no longer thirsted for water.

I tried to eat animals. I tried to eat sour berries. Neither would do.

I felt badly toying with Richards for several consecutive nights after he came to, unnecessarily elongating the hunt, but I was so bored and help was never going to come. As for my own escape, I could only walk so far in any given direction before daybreak.

I tried to end it. Leapt clean off the face of a very high cliff. I never lost consciousness. I just waited where I landed for the dull menace of my broken bones, a sensation as neutered as the cold on my eyes, to ease and mend, then sat up in the snow. I used both hands instinctively to realign my neck.

I’d always heard that hell was other people, but without any to feed from I found myself in purgatory.

Richards was my last victim. I emptied the cave after, and thanks to my incredible strength, buried in the frozen earth those who had survived the crash with me. Why leave the evidence?

I hibernated in the cave, finding a kind of unnatural suspended animation. I daydreamed, contemplating the things I missed the most, like coffee and suspense films, a woman reapplying her lipstick. I did this until the spring thaw. And a hiker came.

~~~

Sasha Janel McBrayer is an author of short speculative fiction from Savannah, Georgia. Her fantasy, science fiction and horror stories can be found at SilverthoughtTitle Goes HereInfective Ink and in Future Imperfect: Best of Wily Writers, Vol.2. Visit her blog at http://storybysasha.blogspot.com/.

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Posted on October 9, 2014, in Issue 15: Elves & Spacerockets and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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