Sunday, January 26, 2014

End Lesstin Kerring 2 1/26/14

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Lesstin Kering leaned against the massive, frozen, trunk of an old sleeping tree. It could be an oak or an elm, or something else entirely. He wasn't much of a tree watcher.

Through his heavy winter coat, the tree didn't feel frozen, but it had to be. With snow crunching underfoot and blowing lightly on the wind, (not falling, no, it was too cold for snow to fall,) everything had frozen, even soda, none of that slushy awkward phase where he used to try and squeeze some fluid out. No. Cans frozen and burst, brown spray across the inside of the windshield, a sticky mess in the summer that never left the car.

Lesstin shivered, slapped his hands against his thighs, pleased at the sting and warmth he felt there, then tucked his gloved fingers under his armpits.

Lesstin considered a name for the tree, even if just for the duration of their short relationship, and eventually settled on Mervin. It wasn't a name he liked, just the first one that came to mind. He had an uncle named Mervin, a huge bear of a man, or had seemed so to Lesstin at age 10. The tree, and his uncle, shared the quality of being too large to reach his arms around. That was enough of a link for Lesstin.

“Well Mervin,” Lesstin said, wondering if he expected a response. He had no follow-up to those two stray words, caught, like driftwood on the bobbing sea of wind that almost seemed to speak its own white, howling, words.

“Whooooooooooo,” it whistled, a sound that had always frightened Lesstin in his youth, as those Oklahoma storms pounded the wind against his tiny room's windowpanes, the ragged, shuddering, breaths of an angry giant.

But he found it comforting right now, as if the wind, Mervin, and he, were all conspirators, working together, planning, surviving, or whatever else a tree and the wind might do with a human. He couldn't think of many games they could play, at least, not the sort he had played with his friends in the past.

“Not a worry,” Lesstin mumbled, “with enough time, we'll invent something. A game for all of us.” He coughed a dry choking crack that barely fit through his throat. He knew there would never be time for games with the wind, but he didn't want to discourage his new friends.

Mervin, when just a mere seed, had chosen to grow near a cliff face. Not too close to it, so that it wouldn't block sunlight or rain water when Mervin grew older, but close enough that now, grown to large size, the wind blew off the cliff face, slowing and walking around Mervin, and anyone who happened to hide nearby.

Which was why Lesstin had chosen to hide there. Just for a little while. While his hands and toes warmed up. He had hoped to find some fire wood, and found enough fallen branches to burn, but after a few minute of trying to tear wood away from the ground's icy claws, he abandoned the attempt. Only after did he consider that frozen wood probably wouldn't burn. Also, he didn't have a lighter. But the effort had forced some warmth into his hands and arms. He could feel the difference, and that at least, was a good sign.

Standing out of the wind was a relief too strong for the words that dashed through Lesstin's groggy mind. The cold didn't bother him, not really, not in a way that mattered. It was an old lover, tracing her soft fingers over his cheeks, down his throat, and slowly sapping his life. But the process was not painful. The wind, however, was aggressive, freezing the snow into a hard layer that caught and tore, shattering under a man's weight, but cutting like a blade as delicate nylon snow pants passed it. The wind would freeze skin just as happily, given the chance.

“But Mervin won't let that happen, will you?” Lesstin mumbled. He idly wondered if talking to a tree was a bad sign. He understood the tree was alive, it was a plant after all, but also that it was not intelligent, or even an animal. It could not respond, and, as far as Lesstin knew, had no ability to understand that he was even present. Talking to it might have been a sign of delirium. Was he going mad, out in the cold? Maybe. But, being aware of the change, that gave him some hope. He had wondered how it would happen, how the freeze would infiltrate.

He had heard, or maybe it was just rumor, commonly known, with no real moment of being told, that freezing and drowning were the two most peaceful ways to die. But to him, it seemed that both would have a fair bit of panic to them, at least a handful of seconds where the subject would understand what was going to happen, and have time to think about it.

Lesstin, out in the cold, wondering if one or the other would happen to him (though drowning seemed difficult, even with all the snow around,) thought a nice hard, fatal blow to the back of the head might be nice. Just walk down a street, minding one's own business, and WHACK, some thug with a bat takes a person out. No suspense to that, no worry or moment of fear.

Well. No opportunity to put things in order either. If a person had to die, and rumor had it, one of those same rumors as before, no source, but solid in its own way, everyone died eventually.

But given death, oncoming, a train without enough room to stop, the slow degeneration of body and/or mind, given that, he would rather have things the way he wanted them. His things sold and given away. His goodbyes said. Tears shed and pets handed off.

And it seemed to him, that neither freezing nor drowning, nor even the oh-so-possible head-crushing, offered that chance. Unless, of course, a person had put all of his things in order, put on some winter clothing, driven out into the wilderness until his car ran out of gas, and then set out into the quiet, settling dusk of a gorgeous winter. Of course, putting things in order for unexpected head-crushing sort of defeated the purpose.

In hindsight, the mad trip into the snow, prepared or not, seemed a little...well, mad.

“More mad thank talking to a tree?” He asked himself. Hard to pin it on the cold, given this new insight. He settled against Mervin, feeling the cold creeping into his legs, the packed snow reaching icy fingers toward his bones, deep within their beds of muscle. He didn't remember sitting, or leaning back against his friend. But it felt right. Comfortable, certainly, compared to the biting wind and prying eyes of the icy wilderness.

“It could be worse,” he said, coughing a series of ragged blows that shook his body. Red spray covered the snow, the beginnings of something reminiscent of Pollock, had his perennial cough turned out to be terminal cancer and he then decided to ply his work with a rather morbid medium.

“That was you,” Mervin whispered. His voice sounded like the wind, and smelled crisp, like new linen. Lesstin shivered, not from the cold, that had long since stopped, but out of fear, one last bolt of worry.

“I guess it was,” Lesstin meant to say. The words slipped between lips half frozen shut. Mervin wrapped warm arms around Lesstin's shoulders. He mumbled incoherent thanks as velvet heat flowed into his hands and legs, shared from his friend. Strength flooded his limbs. His hands drifted into the air, invisible and free, while his legs twitched, eager for what was to come. He felt like he could have run a marathon again. He smiled, glad at the thought. Why had he ever stopped doing that? Was it before, or after the visit to the doctor? He could not remember. Nor could he keep his eyes open any longer. Letting them drop closed was the happiest thing he could remember. Sleep would come soon, the pleasant slumber of a man too long denied rest. Like a glass of water after a long run.

He smiled, then coughed again, and frowned as cold red splashed over his lips. He swallowed, wiped a snow-covered glove across his mouth, and said “Mervin, I think we should build a snowman.”

“Whooooooooooo,” the wind said.

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