I am in the falling snow.
Behind me, the door in the shed hangs open, and I can see the workbench, and the cans of paint on the floor, and the dusty window in the wall. Through the glass, the sun shines brightly, and the sky is cloudless and blue.
On this side of the threshold, the snow drops from heavy gray clouds, falling onto my head and shoulders. It spills through the open doorway, and makes a small ridge just inside the shed. A mist forms along the door’s frame, where the cold air from here slides against the warmer air from the other side.
And then the door shuts.
I can’t pretend that I’m dreaming. I don’t think that I’ve lost my mind. I have to believe that, or I won’t be able to move from this spot in the snow.
It’s very cold outside.
I don’t know where I am, but I know that it’s not the Bay Area. On either side of me, tall granite cliff faces rise up, easily a hundred feet into the air, the walls sheer and pocked with thick layers of ice. There is no wind and no sound other than my breathing, and the snow lays thick on the ground, more than covering my feet, and creeping up my shin. I can’t see the sun through the clouds, but the day feels late, even though it is still morning on the other side of the door.
I look back at the shed, and I notice now that there is something unnatural about its architecture. It doesn’t stand apart from the rock behind it, but instead appears to be constructed going through it, as though a hole the exact size and shape of the shed had been cut into the stone, and the building had been slid precisely into it.
I’m not surprised to see that the door has disappeared. Where it was, there is now only the wooden wall of the shed. There is no going back through it.
I can’t stay here. I’m wearing sneakers and jeans and a T-shirt. Already I am shivering, and if a wind should pick up, it’s going to get much worse very quickly.
There are two directions to go, and neither looks more promising than the other. Both lead off in opposite direct lines from the shed, nothing but rock and snow to see, until the paths are lost in the dim light.
You can be afraid later, I think. Now you have to move.
There is no point in making a decision as to which way to go, so I just start walking in the direction I’m already facing. I look back over my shoulder as I trudge through the snow, and in only a few minutes of walking, I completely lose sight of the shed. I try to keep calm by telling myself that I can always turn back if I need to, but I know that all that will come of me retracing my steps is that I might ultimately freeze to death going backwards instead of forwards.
If this was a movie, this would be where I’d hear something howling in the distance. But there is still nothing to hear other than the sounds of me pushing heavily forward through the snow.
It’s getting darker. This means it’s also getting colder. If the light goes out completely, there’s no telling what’s going to happen to me.
No. It’s very obvious what’s going to happen. I’m going to die.
Now a wind rises up from behind me, and the falling snow comes down at an angle on my back, instead of straight down on top of me. I clench my jaw to try to keep my teeth from chattering, but it is a barely effective attempt at control.
I never should have met Arthur for coffee.
I step into a hidden hole and fall forward, landing hard on my hands and knees. I am more startled than injured, and the snow saves me from any scrapes or cuts, but the wind takes the opportunity to blow harder. My shirt rides up high on my back, and a layer of icy flakes drop across my bare skin. I scramble upright as quickly as I can and try to shake the snow out of my shirt, but it’s already dissolving from my body heat, leaving me both cold and damp.
I could go back to the shed, I think. Maybe I can break down part of the wall and get back inside. I don’t turn around, however. Going back now would be the same as just laying down in the snow. If there’s a way out of this, it’s going to have to be found in front of me.
Ten minutes pass, and then another ten. My body is completely numb except for my feet, which now feel coated in broken glass, and the pain from each step threatens to drop me to my knees. I tell myself not to think about frostbite, so of course I can’t push it out of my head. I’m not going to lose any toes though, I realize, because I’ll freeze to death before having to worry about anything being amputated later.
Five more minutes? Another ten? I have no idea. I have stopped shivering now, and this worries me more than anything so far. My legs are heavy as the stone walls that fence me in, and the urge to sit for a few minutes with my back against the granite is growing stronger. Just five minutes. Just to catch my breath.
Five minutes will be the same as forever.
I keep walking.
And then I am looking up at the sky, watching the flakes coming down, and I don’t know how long I have been laying in the snow, but it covers me from head to toe like a frozen shroud. I give a low animal cry, and put all my energy into rolling onto my side, then pushing myself unsteadily up to my feet again. Everything hurts now, every muscle, every joint. My head is a nest of icicles, and every breath is liquid oxygen pouring down my throat.
The snow begins to cover me.
I see the stars ahead of me, dim and steady.
I close my eyes.
Stars? What stars?
My eyelids are heavy, and opening them is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but my frozen lashes painfully peel apart, and I look to see the stars that are shining off to the side of me, glowing from inside the cliff face to my right.
Not stars. Lights. Lights in the rocks.
I am frozen to my core, carved from ice and frost. I am a statue, motionless and captured in time. I am a ship’s figurehead, broken free and trapped at the bottom of a dark arctic sea.
Lights in an opening in the cliff face.
I haven’t the strength to get to my feet.
But I have just enough to be able to crawl.