Victoria McCroskey
The Frigidity of Dreams 

Around you stood the erect forms of a frozen landscape. An icy wind clawed its way down your throat, latching its unforgiving fingers in your lungs. The forest’s trees appeared trapped in the icy grip of winter, frost covering every open inch, every bit that had ever seen light of day. Everything was flat, pardon the trees that covered almost every space in the gelid expanse, and the faint hill that fell into an unknown valley. Yet something was stranger than the snow, than the cold. The frozen forest’s tranquility, its unmasked silence.

Everything was silent. There was no sound from your spiraling cloud of breath, and the only thing that could be heard was the beating of your own heart in your frost-bitten ears as it thundered in your chest. Your feet left no sound, only the sharp lashes of your boots, cutting like a whip into the frosted ground, laced with snow. The silence was horrible, as aching and cold as sin itself, and your heart ached to get away. To run, to run as fast as it could in the other direction. You bolted off the snowy floor, glancing around like an animal in pursuit.

Your heartbeat sped up, racing blood through your veins as fast as your feet pounded against the snow. You had to escape, to leave, to get out of these woods, this silence. The silence was more intense than the beating of hooves, or the sound of thunder. You ran and ran, not knowing exactly where you were going, tears leaking from your eyes and freezing on your face. Gradually you slowed, your footfalls lighter than mere moments before. Your heart thundered in your ears, and your breath billowed before your face in a cloud as white as the landscape before you. Something was in your way, in the valley. The dip in the ground that you’d foolishly run towards. Something huge, with a tiny chance of passing.

Before you, stopping you in your path, was a huge frozen lake. Its surface was smooth as glass and just as reflective, letting you peer into the depths of the lake whilst looking at the half reflected surface of the trees. The wind suddenly picked up, blowing more snow into your face and the hot tears that stained your cheeks.

You walked slowly to the edge of the lake, carefully testing your weight on the slick surface of the ice. You had a feeling that the other side held a different fate than this side. It held your weight in full, even on the smallest portion of the ice. You gingerly stepped onto the ice’s surface.

Other than the slight slipping of your boots, the ice held. Partially through you couldn’t see to the bottom, for snow had gathered on the ice in clumps. The snow continued to press down upon the lake, and its surrounding landscape. It was thicker and billowed in swirls compared to its earlier flurry.

The world was still silent. Nothing made a single sound, a single pop, as the ice under your feet began to crack and split. They began to float away, letting an inky, boiling hot, sticky liquid to seep slowly up through the ice. The pieces moved slowly through the liquid, giving you the chance to hop from piece to piece.
The ice, still slippery, tripped you on your third ice-flat. Your left foot sunk into the boiling mass of black, as dark as a lie. You gasped. You pulled. It was unforgiving and something of a pain you’d never been afflicted with before. You struggled against the black as it dragged against you, pulling you in. It’s blistering heat didn’t fit with the frozen landscape. Your fingernails scraped as they dragged against the ice. It was jagged, giving you a rough handhold to drag yourself up. The wind raged above you, whipping your hair into your face.
The ice wasn’t melting, oddly enough. It held its form and shape almost perfectly, even though your hands melted it slightly. The black liquid didn’t melt it whatsoever; it kept its rough grooves. It also appeared to be giving up, and releasing you bit by bit, as if it only wanted to torment you before releasing you to cope with the misery. This misery was, in this land, the form of a burn.
You hauled yourself up with a new energy; hope to escape. Adrenaline coursed through your blood, pounding in your ears and slamming in your chest. Your left leg hung limply, helped by your right. The land was a silent as a corpse, still frozen from your ears like the water that hung on the frigid landscape’s trees. Terror is hyphenated by silence, you thought as you drifted into the painless sleep of unconsciousness.

Your head rested gently on the gnarled root of an ancient pine. A sharp pain snatched your attention, and a slight wince. The blistered, angry flesh of your leg throbbed in the snow, the cold doing nothing to dull the pain. Above you, the pine’s branches reached hundreds of feet into the air, spiraling to a dizzying height above your head. The wind had stopped screeching through the tree’s timeworn fingers, and slowed to a faint breeze through the treetops that seemed to stretch into oblivion.
It was cold, much too cold for you to fall back into the embrace of sleep; not that you wanted to, hypothermia was a major threat as of now, seeing to the fact that you had been laying here for who knows how long. You were scared, partially for the burn inflicted upon your leg, and partially for the entire circumstance. You’re alone, in a forest, with no sound, battling against the burn on your leg for a reason you can’t comprehend. Slamming your head into the pine’s twisted roots, the tears begin to fall from your eyes, burning on your cheeks and leaving rivlets of desolation infused with your flesh.

Giving up would be so much easier, so much more of an out. Letting death take you would be the easiest way out, in the gentle passage of no return. Like a meadow full of the most poisonous flowers, beauty to the touch but death in the sidelines, waiting. A gentle sleep, and the pain of your leg and of your unknown guilt would be gone.

Your abdomen felt oddly warm, comfort blossoming slowly in the face of a subzero enemy. You smiled, the foggy breath escaping your teeth and flowing, free, into the grey heavens above.

Your eyelids dropped and fluttered like that of a trapped bird, and your breath exited as a faint sigh. You curled into the frigid snow, letting your hair fall over your eyes and breathing deeply for the last time. At least in this world, you thought, as dreams tore you from the false reality of the snowy forest.