Snow

Picture it as a saw blade, millions of ravenous teeth on a disk. Fashion it from sound. The blade cuts through the night and there's nothing left but shattered silence littering the pristine snow.

And,

(as an added bonus)

a trail of red droplets. And nothing else. The snow is completely even. To the north, the stars begin to show themselves, peeking around the clouds they'd ducked behind. Maybe they're too early.

Question: what could do something like this, in this cleared piece of once-farmland, now wooded and cottaged?

Answer: the--

My feet are going to mar the snow, I see, looking out my frosted window. I wish I felt secure behind it.

Firepower. Need it. The gun's in the closet, 10 mm Colt, blued steel. Hands shake as I install the firing pin.

Shells are under the kitchen counter. Dump the box on the battered table, scrape a chair over scuffed linoleum. Incandescant lights look oh so warm and friendly. I shiver.

Dump the shells onto the table and load the first clip, ram it into the gun, cock it. Safety off, I rest it on the table. Muzzle points toward the oh so friendly window.

Fill two more clips. If that can't take it out, nothing I've got will. Oh shit.

Boots, gloves, bomber jacket, and I'm on the porch waiting for my eyes to adjust to darkness. Something feels so inevitable.

Gun goes in my pocket, hand on the grip. I put the safety on. No use shooting myself, or would that be a kindness?

Crunch into the new snow. Frozen blood shatters under my steps. Leads into the trees, of course. As if it would meet me in the open where I could--

Wonder if a flamethrower would help. It would get rid of these damned trees anyway, and--

Focus! Follow the blood. Wonder whose it is. Theorize it's mine. Crunch the bloody crust, frozen to ice, and hope, dear God, that I'm wrong.

Hit the forest edge. Pause. Scrape the bottom of the courage barrel. No use hiding, so go straight ahead and keep a hand on the gun.

Feel hot and cold, like frozen meat nuked in a cheap microwave. Feel video-blue, a numbus glow from behind the retinas, just like the--

Follow the trail and don't wander headwise. Stay alert, so you can see the thing form in front of you, assembling itself out of bits of dust, coming at you who are as helpless as you were when--

Focus, dammit! Keep your mind here!

but that doesn't work and I'm back in the river when the funnel of wind scrubbed its way through my bit of suburbia and left me bobbing for air, when the solid ground beneath me went away and I'm thrashing for something to hold onto, anything please anything but not that, the thing that builds itself out of water, fluid yet solid, and decorates itself with blades and spikes, and smiles when it comes my way, arms reaching out in iron maiden's embrace but

Now I'm back in the snow, following the blood and wishing I knew what I did. Once I hurt it, badly, and now it fears and hates me. I wish I wish I wish the memory I made when I did it would come back so then I could kill it.

Follow the blood. Gentle curve here, straight line there, defile the virgin snow. Don't think about what you'll find when you come to the end of the line.

Try to remember as I walk. Maybe the answer is ready to come out.

I know how the thing travels, along the fourth dimension that we call time, not smooth and linear but chaoticly looping, bouncing back and fourth so that it can engineer things against me, edit my family out of the time stream so that nothing that knows me exists or ever did exist. Only me with memories of a past that now never happened and a--

The line ends!

Shit. Pull out the gun, safety off, cocked, wildly swinging around looking for a target.

Pray for moonlight and get a weak blue glow instead.

Then it's like the river. A million tiny clinks of ice crystals rising from the snowy ground and joining.

Different medium, same picture, forms in front of me. Blades and spikes and teeth carved of ice. My finger twitches spasmotically and I feel, not hear cordite assaulting the quiet, sending a handful of lead at the obscenity. Head, arms, legs turn to tiny flashing crystal bits. Exit, clip number one.

Hands shaking badly so that when I finally get the stupid clip into the stupid gun, the floating torso has arms, legs and head again.

Instant replay.

Reload gun. Pray that there's something else I can do.

Thing grins. Arms open wide but it stays where it is.

Brilliant blue assaults me, takes shape in front of the thing, resolves and dims, and suddenly she's standing there.

She's confused, but sees the grinning thing and flinches, too late. An icy claw scoops out and up and she flies through the air, landing at my feet with a squishy thud.

Expel air in a scream, expel bullets and take the thing apart again, knowing its useless but nothing else to do so thunder echoes through the woods and I scream and scream even after the icy body is shattered and nothing puts it together because its work is done here and now.

Gun goes in pocket and I finally look at her in the fading blue light.

She's beautiful and her side's ripped open, exposing hamburger. Eyes flutter and she smiles. "Joe..." she says. She knows my name. I've never seen her before, but I wish I had. "Caught me off guard. Good thing you chased it away."

"Yeah, good thing," is all I say.

"Got slashed though." Her voice is a borderline whisper. "I don't feel much, so it's probably not bad."

"No, it's not," I whisper.

The bomber jacket goes around her and I hope it'll keep her guts inside until I get her back to the cabin. She feels light in my arms so maybe the adrenaline rush will hold out. The trail is gone. No matter. I know the way. Blood is soaking through the jacket.

Halfway there, I look back and see the line of droplets. It was her blood, dammit, and it didn't reach all the way to the cottage. I tell myself there could be other reasons for that but she's dead by the time I reach the line's start.

Gently, I set the body down, kneel beside it. Cold cuts through the adrenalin but I have to know. I don't vomit when I open the coat but I will later.

She was dressed for spring or autumn, and there's a small purse now glued to her body. I wrestle it away, open it. There's a wallet inside and the last name on the credit cards and driver's license is mine. There's a wedding ring on her finger.

I pull off the ring and stuff it in my pocket. It'll be proof in the morning. The body goes in the shed, covered with an old tarp and my jacket, and I go back to the cottage.

The kitchen is still warm and inviting. I force my fingers to go through the motions of cleaning and oiling my gun while I try to force a thread of continuity through my mind.

I'm going to find the thing, hunt it down and kill it. That is a certainty. In the morning, I'm going to drive my Jeep back to the city. The identity I'm assuming now is very poor but I have other, wealthier masks. Somehow, I'll find a way to read the secret from my memory or, failing that, rediscover the thing's fatal weakness. If I do, maybe I'll end this war before I ever met her. Maybe I can cause this thing to never have happened.

Maybe.

But I know, deep down, that it has happened, and can't be undone. Yet I must hope because I know that I will marry her and without that hope, I certainly won't stay sane.

And so, in this way, I shake my fist at fate and wonder who pulls the string around my wrist.


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