Born of Ice and Snow
1706 (Probably. I’m not quite sure)
Ok, so how do we go about this? Not sure why I’m asking you, I’m the one writing this thing. Okay. Here we go. Yes. Am I babbling? Alright, so, if I’m honest (and I rarely am) it was like emerging from a fog. One of those deep, all-encompassing mists which strapped skin tightly against bone. A fog which had been settled over my essence for so long that when it finally evaporated, I was lost.
There was a quiet ringing in my ears, the stokes of a fire. Prickling against every single part of me. I decided that was what pain felt like. I wouldn’t know what pain actually was until sometime later, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Have any of you ever had Acupuncture? Well, what I felt was nothing like that.
Spitting out a mouthful of snow, I rose onto my knees. Around me, the world swayed, all greyish hues merging together. Transparent. I could hardly tell the ground from the sky. The flesh of the stones beneath me was cold, punctuated by ice. I didn’t know I was standing on a bridge, nor did I recognise that the phantoms which stretched beyond me were oak trees. But the house. The house, I recognised. I knew. A structure, with windows and doors, was a house.
By this time, so early in my existence, I could already see what I was missing. Knowledge gaps, memory gaps. More memory gaps than an alcoholic on an all-night bender. A part of me had been severed, but I knew not what it was. Who I was.
I know. Get the violins out. Cry me a bloody river. I got over it pretty quick. Stood. Swaying on my feet, I tried to right myself.
My sight caught the flecks of blue in the air. Particles. I knew that. What I failed to realise was that no one else could see them. By the time humans managed to split the atom, I had already torn thousands. Remade millions. I was a force and I’m not exaggerating. Though I guess I would say that, wouldn’t I? After all, I’m the one with the power, the one telling the story. Never trust someone with a voice, that’s all I can say.
Around me, the snow I was standing on seemed disinclined to melt. I stamped on it, clasped it my palm. It only grew stronger, colder. Just like me.
Throwing the ice to the floor, I stared at the house. A manor, that’s what I know now. All I saw back then was a building. The size, the gilded roof, meant nothing to me. Those aspects humans held so dear – still do, to some extent. Big car, big house, money in the bank. In three-hundred years, nothing has changed. Only this house was different. The walls were blackened, charcoaled to a skeleton of timber frames. Half the roof was missing, sagging like a beer gut into the topmost rooms. The building was a widower, mourning its inhabitants. Smoke still wisped slightly from the cracked windows. A three-day-old fire. Something drew me toward it, pulling me like an unseen thread. I knew something about that house. Did anyone still live there? Had I lived there? Was I a visitor? Had all my friends died? Was I the sole survivor?
I pondered for a moment what had happened to me, looked around. There was a village – a collection of thatched rooves and hay bales – hooked into the landscape. Just down the lane. I sniffed the air, pretending to know what I was doing. I sensed something all the same. Or rather, nothing. There was an aura of loss around the village, no heartbeats. My ears pricked, bleeding a little as I caught wind of my own. A hollow screech of a sound. Never put me on a heart monitor, unless you would quite enjoy having a seizure.
The arms of the house reached for me, guided me step by step towards the front doors. My legs shook like a colt’s beneath me, almost crumpling as I took my first step. No crawling or bum-shuffling for me. In my first minute of being some version of alive, I walked a few metres to the front of the house. My progress was slow yet determined. I needed to see, to know things. To know more than anyone.
Inside my body, I could hear the rush of blood in my veins, the straining of my tendons. It was like… Like being thrown into a sprint race when your muscles have atrophied. Or rising up from your dead-end office desk only to discover you’ve been invaded by cramps. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. Yoga, that’s all I can say.
When I reached out, I could sense the fibres between the door frame, marvel at the wisps of dust beneath my palm. The cold failed to reach me.
Looking down, I noticed the snow on my feet had not yet melted; it remained intact like two serpents clinging to my skin. For a moment, I became so enamoured with the image, I forgot what I was doing. I barely knew what I was doing in the first place. There was just something about that house. Something trying to tear itself free from whatever frontal lobe it was hiding behind.
Pushing on the door, it flew open, beckoning me inside. Fear couldn’t touch me, but curiosity… It was everywhere. Rising out of the pores of my skin like smoke. Maybe that’s why I was branded the villain. Because I dared to the question. Dared to explore. Or perhaps it was what followed. My first – and last – day of innocence.
Once inside the house, my new sight drank up the gossamer curtains and while singed, I found them nothing short of beautiful. I may be a violent beast, but that doesn’t mean I’m opposed to decent furnishings. In those few seconds I probably developed my expensive taste.
The hole in the roof gaped wide, letting in the early morning sun. A pale white orb in the sky.
Around me, the world seemed to dance in monochrome. Until I turned. Until I saw it, hanging limply from the far wall, tinged with remnants from the fire that had ravaged the house. That painting. Those eyes, staring back at me. The girl in the painting wore a black and white dress with ivory trimmings. Her bodice was carved in blood and stone, with the palest skin. As pale as mine. (Yes, I was the original Goth.) I stared down at my hands – they matched hers. But our eyes didn’t. Where this girl’s eyes – one red, one blue – stared in revered wonder, I knew my single eye could convey nothing more than emptiness. Her hair, naturally wavy, fell in a waterfall of oil.
Stepping back, I said nothing. Felt nothing for the mirror image on the wall. My mirror. It was all very Dorian Gray, if you ask me. What? I read. Just because I’m a psychopath doesn’t mean I can’t have layers.
I stepped back a little more. The girl in the painting unnerved me somehow. I didn’t – or rather couldn’t – fear hear, loathe her or love her. All I could sense was curiosity. I lacked her black hair, her red eye. She wasn’t me, but she was. We were each other.
That was about the moment when I turned tail and sprinted from the house. It may be my insanity playing tricks on me, but I swear I could feel the walls reaching out to grab me as I left. Since this is not the 80’s – in any sense – you can’t prove me wrong by suggesting I was on acid. I’ve only been on acid once and it was a very unpleasant 45 seconds let me just say.
I didn’t stop running until I reached a set of gates. Looking up, if I’d had emotions, my breath would have caught in my throat. The metal was as black as charcoal, bent back on its hinges as if a small army of trees had ripped them apart. Lifting to touch the material, my hand trembled. I watched it in mild fascination. No fear was felt, nothing. Just nerve endings. I couldn’t name what was in front of me, but I didn’t care. I didn’t care that the gates were a mere shape to me, I didn’t care for whatever danger lurked beyond them. In the village. What made my skin tingle was that painting in the house. There and then, I vowed never to go back. (I’m a pathological liar, so you can imagine how that turned out.)
Tentatively, I stretched towards the village, bare feet kicking up dust, grime. Blood, I think. Again, my memory is all a bit vague. Like trying to remember that thing you put on your calendar, circled in highlighter pen, then forgot about until the day your phone buzzed reminding you it’s your anniversary. Simply, I ran.
Running, for me, felt like flying, but I found no joy in it. The world was glass to me. I couldn’t quite reach through the fog in my mind and touch it. Connect. The only rush which surged through me was adrenaline.
My kind, they say, can feel more than humans. Have their hearts fractured rather than broken, their minds splintered rather than cracked. They experience the world in the fourth dimension, with more colours, more smells, more sights. They cannot control themselves, cannot stop the extremes stirring within them. My kind, they say, are the very essence of emotion, of vibrancy. All except me. I’m not sure what’s wrong with me. (Actually, that may not be true.) Perhaps my parents (whoever they are) dropped me on my melon when I was born. All the same, I saw the world is all its wonders, but I felt none of it. Nothing. Except adrenaline. That bubbling cauldron of what-ifs and maybes. That’s what I felt, racing like a bullet through the snow. Ice beneath my feet, lifting me up, making my fly.
The air was fresh, yet stale at the same time. And it was mine. In that moment, the world was mine.
When I reached the village, which was little more than a ring of thatched rooves, my mind was pounding. Memories surged through me, but with no context. No meaning. I cared not for the slapdash visage of a young girl with peppermint hair throwing snowballs at a man with high cheekbones and a cunning smile. The snort of a horse straining against a cart. It meant something to me, but it also meant nothing. Yes, I realise how unhelpful that is, what with the brain’s desire to fill its information gaps, I know, but there it is.
Abruptly, I slid to a halt. Kicked up snow. My head was more than surging now; it was pinching, as if my mind were being tied into knots. I stopped dead in the cold, hands clenching. Unclenching. The pain – I didn’t know pain yet. But something wasn’t right. A hand of agony gripped my skull. Forced me to curl in on myself. Black spots dotted my vision, until all the memories, the onslaught of images I no longer cared for, passed.
Stumbling, I headed down the slope of the village to the nearest cottage. Like my kind, humans are animals at heart. I mean come on, they share 80% of their DNA with a banana for God’s sake. Not exactly the superior species. Nothing is. Even though I could do things – can do things – that no human ever can, I am not necessarily better. Not the next ‘big thing’ in the evolutionary chain. But that doesn’t stop people from judging, does it?
Anyway, my core instincts told me to find shelter, to crumble into a foetal position until further notice. I staggered over the frostbitten soil, though it was soft somehow and strangely uneven. Each step was like climbing over a mountain. If you’ve ever had a hangover, y’know how it is. (Just to be clear, my kind can’t get drunk, or hungover, so if you’re partial to poisoning yourself, it might be an idea to call me or one of my pet projects to change you into one of us.)
The cottage was sparse, with a single wooden bench coveted with clay bowls. A woollen rug was spread next to a gaping hole in the wall, which I now know to be a hearth. I knew what fire was, but I didn’t know the conduit through which humans utilised it. When I discovered the human capability to make fire, I was fascinated. Spent hours tickling the flame with my fingers, paid many a person to strike a match and let me watch as they kindled wood or roasted meat on a spit. I’ve noticed, over the course of my life, there are few things human do which do not end in destruction. Fire is not one of those few. As beautiful as it was to me back then, I never forgot what it could do.
The roof of the hovel was low, but then I wasn’t as tall as I’d hoped. The beams only just grazed my forehead, like a benevolent mother kissing their child. Eventually, I found my way to a small staircase, chased it upwards until I was gifted new sights, new scents. Newness I would soon grow tired of.
Back then, the configuration of a speck of dust would enrapture me for hours, keep me staring at the fibres until almost a day had passed. Over the years, as you can imagine, I’ve had to get a life.
At the top of staircase stood a small bed, with a wooden frame and frayed blankets, a dresser with a dirtied mirror, and a wicker basket filled with clothes. Sifting through the clothes, the fabrics kept me entertained, silenced the screeching in my head. None of it was Prada mind you, so I didn’t plan on wearing it. Perhaps if the great hand of time had slapped an Armani label on it, I would have paraded about in the street. However, after the examination of my own disgruntled appearance in the mirror – which was barely full length and leant like a drunk against the wall – I thought perhaps a change of attire was necessary.
Upon slipping off the dress – my dress, I reminded myself – I paused. Thin, but not unnaturally so. Skin pale, strange. Like a statue of alabaster. I grinned. It wasn’t until I half-turned to admire my backside did the mottled reveal the scar.
It was a large black slash, in the shape of the crescent moon, carving its way down from where I knew my heart lay to the middle of my spinal column. The skin around it was smoothed marble, but the cut itself was open. The blackness spilt out of me, as if that was all which existed inside. I reached out to touch the scar, then pulled back. It ached slightly as my fingers lanced the skin. A knife wound. A fresh wound. That was the first time someone tried to kill me, and I knew in that moment it wouldn’t be the last.
I wouldn’t say I was disturbed, although finding a gaping scar on your back would unnerve most people, but I quickly slipped the dress back on. Fumbled around the room for a cloak. I wasn’t cold, I just fancied a better aesthetic.
Draping an ivy-green cloak around my shoulders, I admired myself. (As narcissistic as I am, which is very, I was unsure of what I saw. Grinning back at me.)
Turning away, I headed for the compact staircase, bounced down each step until my feet hit the floor. Shoes. Shoes would be helpful. I grabbed a pair from beside the hearth and shoved them on. I winced. Itchy. And cheaply made. Nothing in the cottage was expensive; the only beautiful item consisted of an ornate hairbrush. Freshly used. I bent over the mantelpiece, sniffed it. People, other people like me, had lived here. Worked here. Ate stale bread hunched like beasts over the table. Laughed here, danced here. So, why was the cottage empty?
Searching the cupboards – most of which were bare – I found a mouldy loaf, crawling with all manner of beetles trying to escape the frost. Reaching out, I picked them up by their shells. Popped them into my mouth. I remember the crunch of their legs as I fed on their exoskeletons. But I didn’t feel any different. There was this emptiness inside me, this blackened well which had no end, festering within my heart. At first, I’d thought it was hunger. But after eating the insects, even the loaf, it was as if there lay a thirst inside me that I could never hope to quench. Striding out into the snow, my body wavered. There was a small, metal water pump by an empty stable yard; the water had long since dried up. As it turned out, I had no need for fluids.
My eye caught a dirt track which spiralled out of the village into a darkened copse of trees. Perhaps, I thought, I should leave. Everything here was wrong. The air smelt wrong. The particles were floating aimlessly. It was as if the life of the village had been suspended and locked away. Never to be found.
That was when flesh, colder than mine, brushed against my ankle. Peering down, I noticed an index finger, protruding garishly from a mound of snow. I stopped. Of course. That was why the ground had been so uneven.
Crouching down, I began to brush cautiously at the snow until I was all but manic, clawing my way towards the body. The first of many. It was a woman; I remember that much. A young woman clutching a tight bundle in the crook of her arm. My first image of other humans and they were dead. Perhaps that was the image which inspired me in the years to come. The woman looked so peaceful, so happy. This was a human’s natural state. And if you were wondering, that bundle under her arm was my first sighting of a baby. An infant, no more than a few days old. Just frozen, an expression of calm upon its snub nose and rosebud lips. I reached out, stroked the woman’s face. Happiness. Those bodies in the ground brought me happiness. After all, I felt as if they had been laid there just for me. Some part of me knew who had killed them, what had killed them.
My face alighted and I turned towards the forest. Pressing my face to the wind, I surged towards the tree line, ignoring the dirt path. Something more interesting had come up. There was life in those woods, that I did know. Even with my sight, I couldn’t tell what it was. But curiosity beckoned, more so than the need to survive. I’ve noticed, with real humans, that is not the case. (Unless they are characters in horror movies. All self-preservation seems to vanish.) At that moment in time, I was certain I could die, certain something as simple as a knife wound or the plague could end me. But hey, I was naïve. Though, allow me to say this: I was never innocent.
The snow proved no challenge and I flew over the white crested chambers, each time my feet failing to sink even an inch into the ground. Picking up speed, I reached the outskirts of the forest. Each tree seemed to be glaring at me. Maybe, if I had read any fairy-tales, I would never have entered the vast, dark wood with the big, bad monster inside.
Without waiting, I took a step. Several. Several more until I’d been swallowed by the rows of jagged pine needles. A mouth closing, locking me into the dark. Help. Help me. Something – I wouldn’t call it fear – gripped my throat. No sound came out. I didn’t know how to scream, how to call for help. My hands didn’t shake, but adrenaline coursed through my veins. I could feel the sudden slide of the chemical as it ran through me.
Shuddering, I stepped deeper into the forest. It wasn’t until a pair of yellow eyes stretched beyond the bushes that I knew I was no longer alone. This was before wolves had been hunted down, before they’d gone extinct in Britain. If I’d known how many animals would go extinct, I wouldn’t have done it. Wouldn’t have dared. I may be a psychopath, but there was something about those jewels rustling in the undergrowth that made me want to smile.
The first wolf was a magnificent male with a shock of white fur. The others were a mixture of grey hues with brown eyes. All of them, handsome. All of them rugged, limbs of the landscape, with a grace no human could emulate. But, like humans, I was primal in my first few years alive. Territorial. Fight rather than flight.
I snarled at them, then decided that wasn’t a natural sound for me. The wolves only stared, and I couldn’t sense them circling me. I was certain they wanted to be left alone. So, I lashed out. Could you blame me? I was confused, angry – I had no idea who I was, where I was, and some part of me knew that I was responsible for those bodies in the snow. Why stop there?
My body lurched forward, ignoring the growling of the wolves. One darted up from behind and before I knew what was happening, my hand shot out and plunged straight through its throat. A slick, crunching noise followed and a moment later, blood trailed down my arm towards my neck. It felt warm, warmer than I could ever be. The mulch of fur circling my wrist was akin to a blanket or a soft, but heavy cloak. Pushing my foot against the wolf’s body, I pried my hand out of its oesophagus. It came away covered in red. A harsh, yet smooth colour. Like the sun.
Around me, the wolves seemed to stop, as if they knew somehow what I was, as if they were prepared to lie down and die before me. But I didn’t give them the chance. I killed without style, or finesse. My blows were uncontrolled, ugly. Yet I had the instinct. I had the strength.
With my index finger, I yanked one female’s ribcage from her fur. It was a bone-cradle in my arms.
Breaking jaws, I stumbled through the forest, a heavenly shot of adrenaline – the only thing I could feel – dancing through me. I realised it in those minutes of killing: this was what I was made to do. Regardless of whoever I’d been before, this was who I was now. Who I would always be. These things, they’re in the blood. Hang on, that’s a little Victorian. Social Darwinism – another thing to thank humans for. Such things are in the brain now, aren’t they? The tetradactyl or amygdala or whatever it’s called.
With you humans, there’s a small, pitch-black corner of your mind, where these urges sleep. Some of them manifest into raging storms, some of them are no more than ripples on a lake. With me… That darkened corner ballooned outwards until all the light in my mind had been strangled into a small slit in a door. That was how it was supposed to be. It’s like your core beliefs – I was certain I couldn’t change them.
Standing over the bodies of the wolves, I began shaking. Just a little. Leftover adrenaline. Staring at my hands, at the blood and bone fragments, I lifted them towards the light. Red, already fading to a rusted brown.
One wolf, the male who’d stared at me, was lying at my feet, eyes half-open and gazing glassily at the sky. I hunkered down, petted its muzzle. There now, I found myself thinking, you can sleep.
Smearing the blood over my face, I finally let myself smile. So, why I am telling you all this? I bet you’re wondering, ‘Yeah, you’re a weirdo, but why should I care?’ Because I’m trying to prove a point. About us all. Though, to be fair, you shouldn’t listen to me. After all, just because I wouldn’t call what I felt fear doesn’t mean it wasn’t. Still, I’ve never really been the damsel in distress type. In the end, all I’m saying is that because all monsters are human, all humans are monsters.