A year ago, the snow fell.
It descended in thick flakes, pasting themselves against the window of the Jeep.
Thomas wasn’t supposed to be out in it, but I had asked him to come over, and he didn’t want to leave me alone on my birthday. He figured it was only a mile or two away, and what could the snow hurt?
He was dead before he got there.
The snow fell.
Sometimes at night in the winter, it’s too quiet. The rustle of birds in the branches, the hooting of the owl, even the sigh of wind in the trees, halts. It’s as if someone has pressed mute on the world, as if even the animals are holding their breath.
Only, you can never tell if it’s from awe or fear.
The snow falls.
A few weeks after Thomas died, I saw his Jeep in the middle of a clearing, the headlights still on, music blaring through the speakers. As though Thomas would emerge at any moment, apologetic and hopeful.
The closer I got to the Jeep, the more it shimmered. It flickered, and the music faded in and out, the headlights switching on and off like a foolish prank.
I ran home without looking back.
I tried not to go out in the snow ever since. I made excuses, claimed poor circulation or asthma or plain dislike.
I held all of my beliefs close to my chest, because I didn’t want to seem crazy.
And for every Jeep in the middle of the woods, there are a thousand parties I went to out in the middle of nowhere, that ended happily, that tended fine.
And when the snow melted in April, I never saw Thomas again.
But I still felt like if I walked into a blizzard alone, I might not come out again.
A year later, just before my birthday, a new girl called Hattie sat next to me in chemistry class.
The snow fell outside, turning the world to white.
I tried not to look, but I could swear that I kept seeing a flash of headlights, a gleam of metal. My stomach sank.
I thought that Hattie would be just like the others. She wouldn’t understand.
After all, who doesn’t love snow? Snow is magic.
But while the rest of the class stared dreamily, Hattie sank back in her chair, glancing over at me warily. She made a sign with her fingers.
Our eyes met.
The sun came out, and the snow began to melt.
“Do you like the snow?”
Hattie looked up from the beaker of sulfuric acid, eyeing me carefully. “My aunts say that cold weather is bad for the circulation.”
“Are they doctors?”
“Of a sort.”
“So why do you hate it?”
“I don’t hate it.”
“You’re cringing away from the window.”
Hattie laughed. “It’s cold. This school is drafty.” She turned back to the beaker.
“I think the snow has something dark living in it.” I whispered.
Hattie stiffened, and a drop of acid splashed onto her bare skin. She shrieked, and we spent the next few minutes thoroughly flushing it out.
She never answered my question.
The next day, Hattie sat next to me in sullen silence, speaking only the usual science-related phrases:
“Should we add the baking soda next?”
“What is your prediction for the experiment?”
Any time I tried to drag her into a conversation, any time I even looked out the window, she shot me a reproachful glance. She wouldn’t say a word.
They never found Thomas’s body. Just a wrecked Jeep on the side of the road, and streaks of blood like wine stains across white linen. His parents held a funeral a few weeks later, and it was assumed by the police and medical experts that he’d died of exposure, somewhere in the woods.
Animals had probably feasted on the remains.
Only, he was less than a mile from town.
Only, there still should have been some kind of body left to bury…
Only, the snow fell.
It got worse the closer we got to my birthday. By the week before, every time it snowed, I heard him. I’d be walking alone, or just passing in between classes, and he would call my name.
It was soft and distant, as though it came from a great gulf, some kind of impossible distance. But it was there all the same.
I tried to turn, squint into the distant trees. I even walked to the edge of the woods and peered in, looking for a gleam of metal, listening for the booming stereo.
But whenever I tried to find him, whenever I really looked, I only ever saw the steady coating of flakes as they stuck to the ground. Only felt the inexorable, inevitable cold.
The day before my birthday, I followed Hattie home. I couldn’t wait any longer.
It wasn’t snowing, just sleeting: that uncomfortable, cloying wetness, which seeps into your skin. Our breath steamed in the air, and my hair was damp and clinging to my neck.
Hattie, somehow, seemed perfectly dry. Not a blonde wisp out of place, not an ounce of makeup smudged. It was ethereal, the way she seemed to glide through everything, stepping around the assorted potholes and passersby on the sidewalk as though she were barely there herself.
The longer I followed her, the larger the distance became, until I had to run, the cold air stabbing my lungs, just to keep her in sight.
One moment, I was panting, running as fast as I could.
And the next, I was around that corner, sitting on a bench, even as the wind howled with another approaching storm. Hattie sat next to me, stiff and uncomfortable.
“You need to leave me alone.”
“I need to know the truth.”
Hattie sighed. “It is not my truth to tell.”
“There’s something in the snow, isn’t there? It—takes people.”
Hattie looked down. “My aunts would be so furious if I were even entertaining this.”
“Stay out of the snow.” She snapped. “Don’t you want everything to go back to the way it was? Just—leave it alone, please.”
“What the Hell does that mean?”
“Just go!” Hattie shouted, her voice magnifying until I was suddenly at the end of the street, only a few blocks from home, my ears ringing.
“Please. You don’t want it to go this way.” Her voice was a whisper, as though she were leaning over my shoulder.
But when I turned for her, she was gone.
The next day, I cornered her after school, shoved her up against the wall. I could see the Jeep now, nearly every time I looked out a window, and I felt like I was going insane.
The snow had fallen overnight, and it was still falling, coating the ground in its depth, its muffled quiet.
“Just answer one question—”
“Did the snow take my boyfriend?”
Hattie’s cheeks went pink, and her eyes widened. “I shouldn’t tell you—”
“Did it take him?”
Hattie bit her lip.
I nodded. I thought of Thomas, insisting on surprising me for my birthday. The way he held me when he kissed me, like he thought I might disappear if he let go. The comfort I felt next to him, and the life that we should have had, taken away before we could even know whether or not we wanted it.
A smear of red blood in the snow. That horrifying feeling of being watched.
The sting of ice in my lungs.
“Alright, then.” I said. “How do I—”
But Hattie was gone.
The night swept a storm in with it, and fresh flakes started to fall from the sky around 4am.
While Hattie did not arrive at school, I drove to her house.
Hattie lived at the end of a long, winding lane, on the side of town mainly dedicated to restaurants. Her lane really looked more like an alley, sticking out between two food trucks until it spilled into the surrounding woods.
I drove down the trail, making sure that I didn’t stray off the road. The snow was deep on the verges and I didn’t want to be stranded.
And, there was Thomas.
I couldn’t stop thinking about him, the closer I got to Hattie’s. It was an avalanche of memories, as vivid and absolute as if I were actually reliving them. Stronger and stronger, they kept coming. The first time Thomas had asked me out. Our first kiss. The first time we’d made love, in the backseat of his truck. The sense of belonging I felt with his arm around me. The sight of blood in the snow, like wine stains—
I closed my eyes.
And when I opened them, my car was rolling to a stop outside of a little cottage.
For a few moments, I stayed there, wondering what might happen if I closed my eyes again. Would the car simply roll back home?
Would I ever go back into these woods again?
Finally, after the wind began to pick up and I could see the trees waving with it, I got out of the car.
Hattie was waiting for me at the front gate, her mouth set in a quizzical half-grin. “You decided.” She said. “Come in.”
The gate swung open.
I stepped across the property line warily. The hair on the back of my neck stood up, and chills raced down my spine.
Before we could cross the threshold, I stopped. “Just tell me—is Thomas dead?”
Hattie looked up at me, and her eyes were wide and sad. “Yes, he is.”
“Then why is he standing right over there?” I pointed, and Hattie whirled.
Just beneath the snow-laden trees, there was the faintest silhouette of Thomas, in the same clothes he always wore, his letter jacket and jeans. His hair was sticking up like it always did, and I was set upon with a sudden familiar urge to run my fingers through it.
“Thomas.” I whispered.
He was looking right at me, and I shivered.
“Begone!” Hattie shouted, her voice trembling.
Thomas shifted his gaze to her, looking confused.
“Begone, I said!”
Hattie took me by the arm. “Come inside.”
Her aunts greeted us at the door and immediately ushered us into the dining room, which had one window thrown open to let some light and fresh air in. In spite of the cold outside, it was disturbingly hot, and the smell of sage permeated the air.
“What has Hattie told you?” the taller of the two asked.
“Nothing. Except that Thomas—”
“You can see his ghosts.” The shorter one interrupted. “That’s not a good sign. Usually the ones who see the ghosts are Marked.”
“Marked? What do you—”
“No stopping that now,” Hattie interrupted. Her hand gripped mine. “How do we save her?”
Her taller aunt looked at me sadly, a tear glistening at the corner of one bright blue eye. “There isn’t any way to save her, I’m afraid. The snow falls, and it takes.”
The snow falls, and it takes.
I sat at their table in stunned silence, noticing only vaguely the arguments of the women around me, the color rising in Hattie’s cheeks, the finger pointing and gesticulating, the sage blowing away through the open window.
I looked outside, and I could hear him.
“Thomas.” I whispered. “I never loved you.”
“Isn’t that the problem? The snow falls. It takes.”
And the next thing I knew, I was in the thick of it.
In a moonlit clearing, snowflakes falling thick and fast around me.
The entire landscape had turned silver, and then I heard it.
The coughing of the Jeep’s engine.
The scrape of boots in the snow.
I turned to him, and I could feel my heart breaking in my chest.
“Thomas.” I whispered.
“I died for you.” He said.
“I shouldn’t have.”
“You shouldn’t have.”
There was a warm gust of breath against my cheek, and then the wind turned, blowing the snow directly into my eyes. Wet and stinging, like a thousand tiny knives against my skin. “STOP!” I shouted. “I’M SORRY.”
That only enraged him further. The wind picked up, and I fell to the ground, tucking my head into my arms.
Was it my imagination, or did it feel warmer, and warmer?
I was so tired.
Maybe I should just lay down.
The snow falls. It takes. There is nothing that can stop it.
“You should be sorry,” a voice that was like Thomas’s and wasn’t whispered in my ear, as soothing as a lullaby. “You should be more than sorry. The snow falls. I take.”
The pain receded, the knives turning into flickers of warmth like that of a fire. I could feel my breathing slow as calm radiated around me.
The snow fell, and it was a blanket, a feathered pillow, the soft bed where I would lay with Thomas until mid-afternoon, wishing never to be anywhere else from that moment on. When we were younger and everything was simple, and I had everything I ever needed, so what did I know about want?
“Want.” I said, and the word tasted cold and bitter in my mouth, like the snow had at the beginning. “I want—” I began, and pain erupted in my limbs, like a thousand tiny needles come to life. My knees, which were on the verge of buckling in the snow, straightened.
And I remembered my birthday more clearly.
The days before. The long remonstrances. The sullen silences.
When Thomas had suggested we run into the sunset after graduation. Kids, a cabin next to his parents. Stable and secure and solid.
And nothing had ever repulsed me more.
I wanted to tell him, but not over the phone.
So when he told me he wanted to see me for my birthday, I figured it may as well be then. It was better than doing it at school, and the snow was falling. Perhaps he wouldn’t be able to see me again, even if he wanted to.
“I—want—” I said again, and the words were ice creeping down my throat, stealing the breath from my lungs.
“I want to live.” I said, louder than I had before.
Thomas appeared in front of me, in the middle of the blizzard. “You didn’t end it when you could have. You left me, driving through a fucking blizzard. The snow fell.”
“I—I’m sorry.” I whispered, my teeth chattering. “I—I didn’t—want—”
“WHAT. WHAT DO YOU WANT?” The howling resounded through me, stronger than my efforts to stay upright. I fell to my knees in the snow.
“I don’t know.” I sobbed helplessly. “I don’t know, Thomas. I’m so sorry!”
“Tell the truth!” a voice shouted, and I turned around to see Hattie over my shoulder, her hair billowing behind her, her hands outstretched in the blizzard. She was creating a kind of funnel, the wind a living thing that clawed at her, but she had eyes only for me.
“What do you want?” she shouted.
“I don’t understand.”
“What do you want?” Hattie screamed again, and I realized what she was asking.
“Not like this,” I looked up at Thomas. “Not the kind that holds you hostage in the snow. Not the kind that takes. I want the blizzard. I want the wind. I want—”
There was a sudden rush inside me, a great inhale, and when I exhaled, screaming out my fury and terror and desire…
There was only the gentle flurry of snowflakes.
I got to my feet.
Thomas was gone.
There was no Jeep.
There was just me, watching ice crystals form from my own tears. I flicked my fingers, and a cascade of cold whooshed into the nearby trees.
I turned. Hattie was still there, breathing hard.
She held out her hand, and a gust of wind flew out with it, winging up to brush itself against my cheek like a pair of icy lips.
The softest, coldest kiss.
I ran to her and took her hand.
“I knew the minute I saw you,” Hattie whispered. “They all told me it was impossible, that I must be mistaken, but I knew what I saw. What I felt.” She pulled our joined hands to her chest.
“I know what I want.” I said, watching as my breath raised frost on her skin.
The snow fell.
Jasmina Kuenzli is an author of poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction and has been published with Capsule Stories, Pidgeonholes, and Literati Magazine, to name a few! When she isn’t writing, Jasmina can be found weightlifting, running, and holding impromptu dance parties in her car. Her life goals include landing a back flip, getting legally adopted by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and being a contributor on Drunk History. She would like to thank Brenna and Sarah, who hear all these stories first, and Harry Styles, who is sunshine distilled in a human being.
photo by Brady Cook and Jessica Fadel (via unsplash)