by Lauren Bell
‘Now wrap up warm you two. I don’t want you turning into a couple of snowmen.’
We laughed as Mum wrapped our pigeonchested bodies in woollen layers. Our thermal underwear stuck tight to the skin, preventing any heat from escaping. I felt slightly sick. All that padding was unnecessary. And restrictive. How would we move? How could we run?
You turned to me, a devilish grin on your face.
‘Race you to the bottom of the garden.’
I gazed out of the kitchen window to the finishing line, and swallowed. It was going to be harder than I thought. You stamped your feet, eager for the cold embrace. Mum slipped hand warmers into our pockets and made sure our body warmers were zipped right the way up.
I had difficulty turning my head, let alone approaching the kitchen door, but I could tell this was one race you wanted to win. We had anticipated snow for weeks now, regularly checking outside, our heads pressed close to the window panes. Yours had to be an extra inch or so in front, as though that made all the difference.
‘You ready?’ you said.
Outside the air was bitter. I felt my fingers, ears and nose grow numb. Our breath escaped in smoke wreathes.
I turned back towards the warm allure of our house; the soft comfort found in freshly baked bread and steamed rice pudding. I inhaled the sweet milky scent wondering how long it was until dinnertime.
‘Quit dawdling,’ you called. ‘Now take your position.’
You were always the bossy one, probably because you were so small and felt compelled to assert your dominance in another form. I couldn’t be bothered to argue. Being older, so much more was expected of me. You should have followed my example except it was the other way around.
The garden stretched endlessly in front; a glistening sugar lake separating us from the bottle green fence. My legs started to shake and I doubted whether they would be able to support me during this trial.
‘Right, we’ll go on the count of three.’
‘Wait,’ I said, trying to figure out a way to postpone the race. There was something I couldn’t quite put my finger on, something definite but invisible, a warning of some sort. I had this funny feeling that something bad was about to happen. I needed an excuse. And fast.
‘What is it now?’
My mind raced with twenty different answers.
‘I need to go to the toilet.’
Your face changed then, your eyes narrowing, head tilted to one side. I fancied a secret smirk creeping across your mouth.
‘The race will be over in a minute. You can wait one minute.’
The last sentence was a command if anything, an instruction you had set out for me to follow.
‘Ok,’ I said, and hated myself for agreeing.
‘We go on three.’
I pulled my hat down snug over my ears and braced myself. You hopped from foot to foot, stretching your arms outwards, crossing them tightly over your chest. This was your way of warming up.
Then you raised your hand.
The wind cut my face, shredding it as I passed the twenty metre mark. Not much further to go now. I could see you pumping frantically at the side of me, your limbs flailing in all directions, your weedy body struggling to maintain its balance. I kept my gaze fixed on the horizon, the fence growing bigger and bigger, when a sudden thump, followed by a yell, temporarily brought me to a stop.
And there you were face down in the snow, its arctic temperature chilling the very blood in your veins. Your heartbeat slowed, a quiet sinking to match your body disappearing into the meringue sheet.
I was frozen to the spot.
What would you have done in my shoes?
Slowly I inched away, the back fence my final destination.
When I re-emerged you were nowhere to be seen. Only two tracks were printed in the snow; one cut abruptly short. As I approached your impression, I noticed how sharp and irregular the outline was, as though someone had scorched the shape in steel.
And instead of seeing a snow angel with outstretched wings, I saw two horns and a forked tail, and knew that Hell would be waiting for me back inside.
Snow Devil by Lauren Bell first appeared in Issue 1 of Bare Fiction Magazine (December 2013).