Aphelion Issue 274, Volume 26
July 2022
 
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Warm

by Nick Seabra



Bad dreams did not, in the normal run of things, wake him up, but this one was especially bad and it did rouse him, sweating and out of breath.

He lay prostrate for a while, eyes wide open and staring at the ceiling, piecing himself back together. A loud nervous snort escaped him.

It had all been so real.

The bedroom and the picture on the wall above the bed, the late afternoon glow, feverish and carmine, and, probably most of all, the sense of nearing doom.

And then the demon that crawled into bed with him and sucked the life right out of him. Its eyes had been white, pale like low fat milk. Its mouth, the void.

Mary answered on the second ring. "What's the time, Phil?" she said.

"It's -- I dunno, what is the time?"

"It's late."

"But you answered."

"I answered because I'm working, you know I work late."

Phil shrugged, then realized that Mary couldn't see him. "I'm sorry," he said.

"What do you want?"

"I miss you. I want you," he said.

"Phil, that's sweet."

"But?"

"I really can't. I have to hand these essays in by tomorrow."

"Look, I could use a distraction right now," Phil sighed. He was lying in the same position as when he woke up. He was holding his mobile with his left hand while his right massaged his aching forehead. "I... had a bad dream."

There was a pause. Phil could picture Mary considering his statement, slowly biting her lip. "Phil, are you all right?"

"No," he said. "I love you."

"Do you?" Mary said. She said it wryly. "Unfortunately you also 'love' your wife."

"My wife's away. And I don't."

"Yeah. Right. I'm sorry. Go back to sleep."

She clicked off, and Phil lowered his left arm. It was starting to hurt. He rolled over onto his side, then eased himself toward the empty half of the bed. He wondered whether to get up for some water. Or something stronger maybe. Whiskey. Whiskey would hit the spot.

He was thinking this when he realized that the empty half of the bed was warm.

And that it had not been empty in the dream.

Two and two makes four, he thought. Shit.

Time stood still for a moment. He felt like he was between two worlds, or at the threshold of an alternate, wild and evil dimension. Suddenly, the air felt heavy and a whisper of cold chilled him. He was not usually superstitious. But here there was palpably something wrong and it scared him.

He couldn't explain it (after all, what exactly was he thinking, that the dream had not been a dream?), but he knew that what he was feeling was a different kind of fear than any other he had ever experienced. He knew nothing of fear anyway; he realized that he could recall only one fearful moment in his life. (And how safe and boring his life must be for that to be true?)

It had been when his girlfriend Linda's period was late and they had panicked. Phil had been seventeen. His life had flashed before him; he had not wanted to be tied down so early. But had it been fear then? No. This was fear, now. There was something -- something bad, something very bad -- sharing the apartment with him.

It was absurd but he knew it was true. He felt it.

Before he was able to start thinking rationally, the temperature seemed to drop again. It was, now, extremely cold, cold enough for Phil to be stirred from his petrified apathy.

A ferocious shiver consumed him. Self preservation took over. The temperature had not only dropped but was still dropping. Phil removed himself from under the smooth white sheets and got to his feet beside the bed, backed away from it, and stumbled on a small pile of clothes that he had left there. Funny, he thought. Jane demanded that he keep his clothes off the floor, going so far as to call the practice "juvenile," but whenever she was away Phil couldn't help it. There was something oddly satisfying about undressing, shedding the day's dirt and troubles, and discarding one's clothes on the floor, where they could be stepped on conqueringly on the way to bed.

But Phil didn't step on them so much as he got himself tangled in them. His left foot became trapped in the folds of the black and yellow shirt that one his braver students had said reminded him of the colors of an over ripe banana. He fell backward, arms flailing, but the sliding window that he crashed into halted him. The glass didn't break. It was, however, cold. Freezing.

"Shit, fuck," he breathed, pushing away from the window. He hoped that it would be warmer, at least less cold, in the rest of the apartment. He shook his head. Concentrate. Get out.

The serene Hartford skyline blinked outside. It was March, too late for extreme cold.

What was going on? What is going on? Phil wondered, looking toward the tangled bedsheets on the bed, and around the dark bedroom. At the en suite bathroom on the other side of the room. At the pulsing, murky shadows inside it.

He paced unsteadily out of the bedroom. Just before the window pane iced over.

####

Linda had said, then, "You look like you know what you're doing," as he rolled the condom over his dick.

He did. He had had sex many times already.

Linda had not. She was nervous.

"I'm sure you've heard the rumours," Phil had muttered, engrossed, almost done. He looked up, soon after, ready.

She was lying on the bed underneath him, naked except for a pair of colorful striped socks. She started to tremble as he leaned in to kiss her.

"Cold?" he asked.

Linda just giggled nervously.

She is a virgin, Phil thought. And then, Lucky me. He kissed her passionately, and she kissed back.

She put her arms around him, but the trembling intensified.

"Hey," he said, gently. "Don't worry. I swear you'll like it, all the girls I've -- "

"It's not that," she said.

"Then what's the matter?"

Confused, Phil reared back up.

Linda sat up. "I'm scared of, well, after."

"After what?"

"You have a track record of dumping girls after you've fucked them."

"Do I?"

"You do."

"So?"

She cocked her head. She glanced unconsciously at his dick.

He started playing with her wet cunt. The rest was mostly unavoidable. As for the pregnancy, well... If Phil had noticed the tearing of his condom, that could have been avoided.

####

He shut the door to the bedroom, and to his memories, forcefully.

It was warmer in the hall (considering that he was under dressed in baggy black boxer shorts and white T Shirt, for one), and Phil indulged in a drawn out sigh of relief. He walked down the hall toward the entrance, flicking light switches on the way. The study, on the left, the main room, on the right, the kitchen, also on the right. He reached the front door, an antique with an old-fashioned deadbolt lock that needed a key to unlock it from either side, and turned the faded brass handle just for the hell of it. But it wasn't just for the hell of it. Not really. It probably won't budge, Phil worried.

And he was right. The door didn't budge.

Phil's foot twitched, eager to kick it furiously, but his mind hadn't checked out just yet. Kicking a hard wooden door with bare feet is not smart, he thought. What's happening? I have to keep my cool. Have to think straight.

Unfortunately, thinking straight quickly led to the unsettling realization if he couldn't open the door, he was trapped, alone. But trapped by what? The demon from his dream? Or a door swollen by the cold, damp air?

Wait a minute. I have the keys to this door. Maybe I locked it last night...

Phil turned around, and remembered that his key chain was in the bedroom and that the only other key was Jane's. And Jane was out of state in Pennsylvania. He thought about this. He couldn't leave the apartment. The bedroom? That was off limits; there was something very wrong happening in the bedroom, and he counted himself lucky that it was only happening in the bedroom.

Until it starts happening out here.

He squinted down the hall, hardly believing his eyes. The door to the bedroom had gained a strange, pale blue color. From the cold? Could it be spreading? His heart rate sped up again, the fear from before -- that all consuming fear that was real -- forcing its way back to take control of him. He had been relatively composed before. Thinking straight. But now, whatever was in the bedroom was trying to get out. To get him.

The landline! He could use the landline to call someone. Painfully obvious. The landline was in the study, and he hurried back toward it. As he neared the bedroom he felt the cold already slowly seeping out through the crack in the door. He turned into the study.

It wasn't by any means an opulent or impressive study, but was, instead, small and snug. The walls were lined with bookshelves, the desk cluttered with papers, an empty coffee mug and several open books.

And the phone.

Wasting no time, he lunged for it. He stood over the desk, hunched, and dialed Jane's mobile number. One ring... two... three.

"Hello? Phil?" came Jane's drowsy reply.

"Jane!' he cried happily.

"Phil, what's wrong? You sound -- "

"Boy, is it good to hear your voice."

Jane paused. "It's... good to hear yours, too. But you sound different."

"No shit." Phil dropped into the swivel chair beside him, stretching the phone cord. "No shit," he repeated. "It's all so crazy, I'm not sure where -- "

"Jesus, spit it out," she snapped.

"I don't know where to start," Phil snapped back. "Fuck this. I, I think I'm in danger."

"Of what?"

"From what."

"Well, 'from' what?" Jane insisted. She was always grumpy just after waking.

"That's it, I don't know what from," Phil admitted.

"You're pulling my leg," Jane said.

Phil said, "I'm really not," and shivered. The cold was getting closer.

"You're not making sense."

"Look. I had a bad dream, and I woke up and, and then it got really cold, I mean, really cold, so I -- "

She cut him off, but her tone was softer. "Phil, I get it. What was the dream about?"

"What?"

"You're lonely. All you need is someone to talk to. So talk. I'll listen."

"N-No, Jane," Phil stammered. Why did I call her in the first place? How can she help? She can't.

But the damage was done. He flashed back to the nightmare,

to the bedroom, to the warm bed after a long day, to the serene and sleeping Me, to the thing that skulks out of the bathroom, just a shape for now, a shadow, vaguely human, to the sick, melting moon that has risen despite the hour, to the sun that is fast retreating, and to the shallow red hue of this late afternoon, the feeling of dread that pervades this scene and the foul stench of death.

The thing becomes clearly not human. Its skin, its crust, blends in with the bedroom's blood red glow. It has horns, small but sharp. Its eyes speak evil, and it is come for the sleeping Me.

He stirs, but doesn't wake. He turns toward the demon's maw as it stretches open, unwitting, and seems almost peaceful. The demon starts to make harsh gulping sounds. The sleeping Me starts to lose color, to shrivel, his soul, his essence being sucked out of him.

The sun is gone. There are no stars.

Phil cleared his throat. It was very dry. No, he couldn't tell Jane about the dream. There was, however, something else. It seemed important that she know.

"Don't freak out," he began. Here goes nothing. "I'm having an affair. Sorry."

Her reaction, unsurprisingly, was calm, and even tempered. "With whom?"

"Mary Shae. From the Science department."

"I think I remember her from Harry's retirement party."

"Yes, she was there."

"Ludicrous glasses."

"Jane."

"Does she wear them all the time?" Jane went on. "Is her nose misshapen? Why else would a woman choose -- "

"Jane," Phil said. "Stop. There's more. Mary's not the only one. I've cheated on you before."

"I'm not surprised," Jane said. "Phil, what is it with you and women? Don't you know that no sin goes unpunished? Didn't you learn your lesson when you got that poor girl pregnant?"

"Yeah, that was eighteen years ago."

"You have a son, Phil. A son that you've never even seen pictures of. Doesn't that bother you in the slightest? Imagine growing up without ever meeting your father, or worse, being told all your life that he's an asshole. Just think of the suffering you've put him through. All because you weren't able to keep your dick in your pants. You're a Freudian cliché, Phil, and we're getting a divorce."

"Don't start with this psychology shit," Phil warned. He was tempted to hang up.

"At least I can be sure that it wasn't my fault. You just can't help yourself."

Phil gritted his teeth. He said, "Goodbye, Jane," and hung up.

Now; he still had to find a way out of the apartment. Easier said than done, he thought.

He picked up the receiver again and dialed 911, but the line was dead. Total isolation. Madly shrieking, he swept both his arms over the desk. Everything fell. He didn't care. The phone clattered loudly on the floor, and the reading lamp (a simple thing, a present from the in-laws) broke.

As he stood there, panting, a wave of cool air swept over him. Glancing up, he saw that thick icy tendrils were twisting out of the bedroom. There was actually mist around the door. Spreading -- the cold was spreading.

####

The wall mounted air conditioning unit in the main room wasn't working. When he tried the sliding doors to the small terrace, they were jammed. He hurled an armchair into the glass but it held. There was nothing he could do, there was no way out.

In the kitchen he made some hot tea. It helped to clear his head, if only a little. In the normal run of things, he was not a big tea drinker. Tea reminded Phil too much of his parents, who had always been advocates of tea over coffee.

For a while Phil called for help at the front door, hitting it with his fists for good measure, at regular intervals, all to no avail. No one came for him.

As the cold drew nearer, spilling from the bedroom faster every minute, he started to see odd things around the apartment, shadows, first, then people.

Mary argued with Jane about glasses. His father sternly berated him for not taking the cold like a man.

Phil cowered from him, sinking to the floor in the corner of the living room, sobbing.

Linda, still young, walked down the hall, a small boy trailing behind her. She spared Phil the briefest of glances and kept walking, but the boy -- the boy took a step toward him, into the living room, and said Hello.

Phil could only tremble.

Hello, the boy repeated.

"Are you cold?"

No, the boy replied. Are you cold?

"I'm very cold," Phil said. "I think I'm dying."

The boy came closer and sat beside him, then put his arms around him.

Phil's teeth chattered audibly and his legs jerked violently to and fro.

You have to stay warm, the boy told him. Warm, not cold. Cold is bad. Yes, cold is bad. And it's getting colder.

The walls were covered in icy veins, alive and throbbing.

Phil wanted to hug the boy back, but he lacked the strength to lift his arms.

Everything was blue, and the boy was gone.

Have to stay warm, Phil thought. His eyes swam in and out of focus of their own accord. He was no longer in control. Have to stay warm. Warm, not cold. Cold is bad.

He heard the bedroom door crashing open. A gust of wind pinned him to the wall. Footsteps. Coming down the hall. He closed his eyes not because he didn't want to see the demon, but because he couldn't keep them open. Not any longer.

Have to stay warm. He hunched his shoulders and wrapped his arms around his legs, trying to protect the last traces of heat deep inside his chest.

Warm.

Warm... And he felt warm again, as frost bloomed on his skin, and heat and cold and pleasure and pain and pride and guilt all faded into blue-white mist.

THE END


© 2012 Nick Seabra

Bio: Nick Seabra is a native of Portugal who has worked Down Under translating screenplays.

E-mail: Nick Seabra

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