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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
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.
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
“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
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
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
“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
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